abstract is, aside from the title, the most frequently read and most
easily accessed portion of an article reporting original biomedical
research. The abstract provides an irreplaceable resource for busy
clinicians, researchers, and authors searching for pertinent material
in the source journal or in computerized databases. JAMA began
publishing abstracts with articles on January 7, 1956, predating
MEDLINE by a decade; other journals followed suit.1
Structure was not added to JAMA abstracts until
19912 when the structured format developed by Haynes et
al3 and tested4 and evolved5 in
Annals of Internal Medicine with the help of Edward J. Huth,
MD, then Annals' editor, was adopted. Reading the abstract
has never been a substitute for reading the article: crucial details of
the study, such as patient selection and follow-up, definition of
outcome measures, and study limitations, receive short shrift in the
terse style of the abstract.6,7 A simple and
straightforward abstract may obscure a more complex (and realistic)
story within the text. These limitations aside, however, the abstract
provides the reader with an efficient summary of the study that
facilitates scanning many articles to find those that are the most
pertinent to the reader's interests and needs.
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