Whether you are a consumer/user/patient, carer or family member, clinician, or a researcher… if you have some experience with mental health… you probably have some information that you have learned along the way about improving mental health opportunities for others in the future. And information from all of these sources contributes to the pot of all known knowledge about mental health. Sharing the gems of knowledge we have can be challenging (and a bit scary sometimes too!) But, sharing makes a useful contribution. This blog is about one way to contribute to the convincing tried and tested evidence end of the knowledge spectrum…
These days in mental health conferences in particular we are seeing more people with lived experience speaking, and being included in conference discussions and agendas – respect is growing, the environment is becoming more inclusive. Clinicians are also increasingly being included, and asked to share their practice rich knowledge. Meanwhile researchers and scholars have a long experience in speaking and writing about mental health topics, however, they are becoming increasingly challenged to do so using some co-design and co-creation principles. The collaborative and inclusive shared environment of knowledge production (evidence) to improve, prevent illness, promote health and well-being and to support recovery is slowly changing and hopefully becoming stronger and more informed as a result.
Some of the traditional formats for knowledge exchange have a procedure for selecting and screening information. The abstract, a very brief and concise overview that summarises a longer discussion, makes a first impression, and is the first hurdle you encounter if you want to present your ideas to mental health professionals, and have them taken seriously. The abstract is a hard hitting pitch to your reviewers who will ultimately decide if your argument is convincing enough, and accurate enough to be included in a peer reviewed context such as a scientific conference or a journal.
Peer review is widely considered to be the ‘gold standard’ of ensuring that ideas, have sufficient merit, have been obtained in an ethical fashion, are organised and analysed using a reliable, logical and trustworthy processes, and can be considered dependable and credible. Of course it has its limitations… but it is how the scientific world revolves at the moment, and if you want to add your voice and your ideas to the scientific mental health audience – this is the process your ideas must undergo to show they are indeed valid!
For conferences, a call for abstracts is sent out up to a year before the conference date. Three common conference presentation styles are: a Poster; an Oral paper; or as part of a Symposium.
For most journals you can submit a full manuscript anytime, and you will be asked to include an abstract. You will be asked to follow the authors instructions and these must be adhered to very closely – otherwise, your submission will simply be rejected – no one will read it at all. Don’t be overwhelmed though… just go through the step by step list, do as they ask… and things can proceed very smoothly.
When you submit your paper – your abstract is your ‘sales pitch’… Manuscripts and abstracts usually are sent to experts in the field – but only about 4 people in the first instance. You have to gain the interest of (usually) 3 peer reviewers and an editor or scientific chair person. The reviewers are called ‘blind’ – but only because they are not given your name or details, and theirs are not revealed to you! They are asked to critically analyse your submission and to make a judgement on whether it should be accepted and presented to the wider mental health audience (conference delegates or journal readership). It is complicated, and a big responsibility for the reviewers and editors – because they are to some extent the guardians of the evidence on which good practice is based. So – we want it to be a very rigorous, process so we can all trust it as much as possible, for the public good. It is a very serious business. What is more, is that reviewers don’t get paid for this work… it is volunteer on top of their other responsibilities, as a service to their discipline. So, don’t cheese them off with a half baked abstract!
So – here is the How To guide!
- You have 250 words (average) and that is all. Automated functions will only allow a certain number of words or characters and you simply can’t enter anymore than what the programmed file will allow. 250 words is common – you will soon find that when you start writing, they get get used up very quickly.
- Your 250 words must be captivating, interesting and thoughtful! (Remember your reviewers are volunteering to review your work… they have probably opened your file after dinner at night… after a long day at work… they are hoping to open something that will be inspirational – something new… now is not the time to let them down!)
- Make sure that you are reporting what you have actually done... not what you hope to do, unless you are presenting a protocol.
- Use key words that will help your work to be found in the literature searches of others in the future!
- Make sure you acknowledge your co authors and affiliations.
- Make sure your ideas are aligned to your audience – a good fit – you need to match the right audience, with the right time and the right ideas.
- Use a framework like this to organise your ideas and communicate them effectively (you don’t need to use heading but you can):
- Background/ Significance
- Make sure your work can be reviewed as recent, relevant, and reliable. (Don’t let it get too old… and don’t slice the salami too many times).
- Make sure the topic of your abstract matches the conference themes.
- Make sure you have a tight, concise and well argued discussion. Get a trusted mentor to read it through and critique prior to submitting.
Remember – if you get rejected – don’t lose heart… try again, look at the feedback, try to work on a new more convincing draft, seek feedback from someone with more experience than you, find a mentor… and of course – the reviewers aren’t infallible… sometimes they get it wrong, and you have to wear it. You will have to muster some resilience, be brave – refine… revise… rework... and try again another time.