To the Editor:
JAMA’s laudable effort to upgrade medical abstracts  represents only a syntactic improvement in communicating quantitative results. It was proposed by editors faced with reviewing multitudes of abstracts submitted to research meetings.
Of greater use to JAMA’s general medical readership, and especially to the innumerable members of the public who read JAMA abstracts online via the Pubmed system, would be a graphical flow chart describing each study’s design. Instead of syntactic sugar, this would provide at-a-glance understanding of what is often the most innovative part of a study.
Such charts are now familiar to readers, having been part of JAMA’s instructions to authors since at least 1998 . However, because they are often laden with details , they are themselves candidates for abstraction.
Although PubMed already supports graphics in its abstract pages, authors would be better specifying these proposed abstract-flow-charts declaratively, e.g. with an XML data description language. PubMed could then, someday, support searches based on details of study design, thereby fulfilling the hope expressed during JAMA’s introduction of structured abstracts in 1991: to “allow more precise computerized literature searches” .
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