Context: The section of a research article most likely to be read is the abstract, and therefore it is particularly important that the abstract reflect the article faithfully.
Objective: To assess abstracts accompanying research articles published in 6 medical journals with respect to whether data in the abstract could be verified in the article itself.
Design: Analysis of simple random samples of 44 articles and their accompanying abstracts published during 1 year(July 1, 1996-June 30, 1997) in each of 5 major general medical journals (Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, JAMA, Lancet, and New England Journal of Medicine) and a consecutive sample of 44 articles published during 15 months (July 1, 1996-August 15, 1997) in the CMAJ.
Main outcome measure: Abstracts were considered deficient if they contained data that were either inconsistent with corresponding data in the article's body (including tables and figures) or not found in the body at all.
Results: The proportion of deficient abstracts varied widely (18%-68%) and to a statistically significant degree (P<.001) among the 6 journals studied.
Conclusions: Data in the abstract that are inconsistent with or absent from the article's body are common, even in large-circulation general medical journals.