The Ins and Outs of Finding Conference Abstracts

How many times have you been frustrated by finding the perfect citation in a database on your topic of interest, only to discover it is merely a conference abstract? Conference abstracts are often time-consuming, but they are useful. In order to minimize publication bias, systematic review search results should include conference abstracts. They are also useful when looking for the latest and most up-to-date research in a field.

Often, the conference abstract is just the pre-published findings of research that is later published as an article. Hopefully, the conference abstract has already been published as an article and can be found by searching for the same title (or similar title) by the same authors.

In the following example, this conference abstract from 2013 was found in Embase after searching for patient handoff tools:

Wessman B, Sona C, Schallom M, Aycock J, Drewry A, Mazuski J, Boyle W. 8: A novel ICU hand-off tool: The glass door of the patient room. Critical Care Medicine. 2013 Dec 1;41(12):A2.

Only the abstract was available in Critical Care Medicine’s coverage of the Critical Care Congress of the SCCM. The full article was later published in 2017 in the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine with a slightly different title by three of the original authors:

Wessman BT, Sona C, Schallom M. A novel ICU hand-over tool: the glass door of the patient room. Journal of intensive care medicine. 2017 Sep;32(8):514-9.

In some cases, the conference abstract is all that is available because the paper never moved on to the publication stage in a peer-reviewed journal. If this is the case, and the author information is included, try contacting the corresponding author(s) for the data.

If you are looking specifically for conference abstracts, many databases allow you to restrict your search by publication type. This will typically find conference abstracts that were published in a journal in a conference proceeding.

  • Web of Science: Run a search, find “Refine Results” options on left hand of page, refine under “Document Types.”
  • Embase: Use the Advanced Search feature under “Advanced” and restrict under “Pub. Types.” Embase also has an option to search by conference name by clicking on “Fields” under the search box.
  • Scopus: Run a search, click “Document type” on left of page, select “Conference Paper,” then “Limit To” button on the bottom of the column.

If you are looking for abstracts from a specific organization, it helps to search by their conference name, or use the journal title that organization publishes their conference abstracts in. Not all conferences are indexed in a database. Some organizations require a membership to access conference abstracts. Below is an example of the coverage of some cardiology organizations’ conference abstracts.

  • The American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session is published in JACC and is indexed in Embase and Web of Science.
  • The Society of Thoracic Surgeons Annual Meeting conference abstract book is available freely on their website, but is not indexed in a database.
  • Some programs from the American Association for Thoracic Surgery’s annual meeting are available on their website, but these only include the title and not the abstract.

Finding conference abstracts or the published papers resulting from a conference abstract requires some effort, but the library is here to help if you are stuck – simply contact us at