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A Guide to Writing an AGU Abstract

Thinking of an abstract as a miniature scientific paper and its creation as a series of simple steps can ease becoming a presenter at an AGU meeting.


To give a talk or poster at an American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference, you have to write an abstract. Putting together a well-composed abstract can feel daunting after making it through the task of the research itself. Although you know everything needed to understand your research, how do you sum that up for someone else? And how much information should you include?

It may seem overwhelming at first, but the process can be broken down into several simple steps. Keep in mind that an abstract is not merely a summary; it is a presentation of your research findings. Think of it as writing a very condensed scientific paper.

Step 1: Choose a Meeting

AGU meetings offer a wealth of opportunities for you to share your research. When choosing a conference, make sure to plan in advance; abstract submission deadlines generally fall several months before the event is held.

The annual Fall Meeting in December offers the most recognized AGU opportunity, but its abstract submission deadline for this year has passed. You can turn to other AGU-sponsored meetings, such as the Ocean Sciences Meeting in February 2016 and smaller, more specialized meetings known as Chapman conferences.

AGU meetings offer a number of opportunities specifically for students. These include an undergraduate poster session at the Fall Meeting, especially useful for first timers who would prefer to present in front of their peers rather than in discipline sessions. Additionally, students who wish to present at AGU meetings but need help with costs can apply for travel grants.

Also, specifically for students, the Virtual Poster Showcase will offer online sessions in October and November for student presenters and their faculty coauthors in the Earth, atmospheric, ocean, space, and environmental sciences.

Because it is virtual, the showcase allows students to share their research from anywhere, making it a great option for students who can’t afford to travel to present their findings. This online conference will begin accepting abstracts this month.

Step 2: Read Other AGU Meeting Abstracts

Before you begin writing, you can get a better idea of how to craft your abstract by perusing abstracts that others have written. AGU’s website provides access to tens of thousands of such abstracts from past AGU meetings. The more you become familiar with the literature of abstracts, the easier it will be when you sit down to write your own.

Step 3: Review AGU’s Guidelines

No matter what AGU meeting or conference you plan to attend (including the Virtual Poster Showcase), you must limit your abstract to 2000 characters, including spacing and punctuation. Likewise, your abstract title must fit within the span of 5 to 300 characters. AGU welcomes submission with your abstract of no more than one graph or other image (JPEG, PNG, or GIF only).

AGU identifies whoever submits an abstract as its first author. Other authors, including advisers or professors, field or laboratory assistants, and members of the research team, can be added later.

Depending on the conference or meeting, AGU may require the first author to be a current member whose dues are paid for that year. Check specific conference guidelines to see if the first author must be an AGU member.

Step 4: Begin Writing

As you write your abstract, break it down into different components. Think of the abstract-making task as writing a very brief peer-reviewed paper. It should include the following:

  • Context/Purpose: One to two sentences explaining why you studied this particular topic and what is significant about it. Has past research been done? How does your research add to existing knowledge?
  • Methods: One to two sentences outlining the methods you used to conduct your research. How did you collect your data? How did you process your data?
  • Results: Three to four sentences about what you found through your research.
  • Interpretation: Up to four sentences discussing those findings. What do the results mean?
  • Conclusion: One sentence summarizing what you have learned from your research and why it is significant.

Step 5: Submit!

When you submit your abstract, choose the specific session that is most applicable to your research.

Most meetings have abstract submission fees that help cover the cost of the meeting or virtual poster session. Expect to pay about $65.00 for a regular submission and $35.00 for a student submission. AGU waives abstract fees for submitters from developing countries.

Step 6: Enjoy the Rewards

Presenting your research to your professional peers provides a unique opportunity to practice communicating science. Creating a presentation and sharing your findings helps you hone skills needed to convey technical material effectively. Meetings also allow you to network with other scientists in the field and gain insight into the latest scientific findings. You’ve worked hard to conduct your research; now go share it with the scientific community!

This article was largely influenced by “How to write an abstract for a Geological Society of America conference” by Dan Deocampo.

—Victoria Anania, AGU Education Intern; email: [email protected]

Citation: Anania, V. (2015) A guide to writing an AGU abstract, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO034617. Published on 24 August 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0