Background: Structured abstracts have been widely adopted in medical journals, with little demonstration of their superiority over unstructured abstracts.
Objectives: To compare abstract quality among 3 clinical dermatology journals and to compare the quality of structured and unstructured abstracts within those journals.
Design and data sources: Abstracts of a random sample of clinical studies (case reports, case series, and reviews excluded) published in 2000 in the Archives of Dermatology, The British Journal of Dermatology, and the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology were evaluated. Each abstract was rated by 2 independent investigators, using a 30-item quality scale divided into 8 categories (objective, design, setting, subjects, intervention, measurement of variables, results, and conclusions). Items applicable to the study and present in the main text of the article were rated as being present or absent from the abstract. A global quality score (range, 0-1) for each abstract was established by calculating the proportion of criteria among the eligible criteria that was rated as being present. A score was also calculated for each category. Interrater agreement was assessed with a kappa statistic. Mean +/- SD scores were compared among journals and between formats (structured vs unstructured) using analysis of variance.
Main outcome measures: Mean quality scores of abstracts by journal and by format.
Results: Interrater agreement was good (kappa = 0.71). Mean +/- SD quality scores of abstracts were significantly different among journals (Archives of Dermatology, 0.78 +/- 0.07; The British Journal of Dermatology, 0.67 +/- 0.17; and Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 0.64 +/- 0.15; P =.045) and between formats (structured, 0.71 +/- 0.11; and unstructured, 0.56 +/- 0.18; P =.002). The setting category had the lowest scores.
Conclusions: The quality of abstracts differed across the 3 tested journals. Unstructured abstracts were demonstrated to be of lower quality compared with structured abstracts and may account for the differences in quality scores among the journals. The structured format should be more widely adopted in dermatology journals.