LibParlor Contributor, Allison Hosier, discusses how writing an abstract first can help clarify what you’re currently talking about.
Allison Hosier is an Information Literacy Librarian in the University at Albany, SUNY. She has presented and published on research pertaining to practical applications for the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy as part of information literacy instruction. Her research that is current is on examining the metaconcept that scientific studies are both an action and an interest of study. Follow her on Twitter at @ahosier.
In 2012, I attended a series of workshops for brand new faculty about how to write your first peer-reviewed article, step-by-step. These workshops were loosely according to Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher.
Our first assignment? Write the abstract for the article.
These tips was shocking to me additionally the other new scholars in the area during the time. Write the abstract first? Wasn’t that the right part writing paper help that has been supposed to come last? How do the abstract is written by you if you don’t even know yet exacltly what the article will probably be about?
We have since come to treat this as the most useful piece of writing advice I have ever received. To such an extent that I meet, both new and experienced that I constantly try to spread the word to other scholars. However, whenever I share this piece of wisdom, I discover that I am generally regarded with polite skepticism, especially by those who strongly feel that your introduction (never as your abstract) is best written in the end associated with the process as opposed to at the beginning. That is fair. What works for just one person won’t necessarily work with another. But i wish to share why i believe you start with the abstract is useful.
Structuring Your Abstract
“For me, beginning with the abstract at the very beginning gets the added bonus of helping me establish in the beginning precisely what question I’m trying to answer and exactly why it is worth answering.”
For every piece of scholarly or professional writing I have ever written (including this one!), I started by writing the abstract. In doing so, I follow a format suggested by Philip Koopman of Carnegie Mellon University, that I happened upon through a Google search. His recommendation is the fact that an abstract will include five parts, paraphrased below:
- The motivation: Why is this research important?
- The issue statement: What problem are you attempting to solve?
- Approach: How do you go about solving the problem?
- Results: that which was the main takeaway?
- Conclusions: Exactly what are the implications?
To be clear, whenever I say that I write the abstract at the start of the writing process, after all the very beginning. Generally, it is first thing I do when I have an idea I think could be worth pursuing, even before I attempt to do a literature review. This differs from Belcher’s recommendation, which can be to write the abstract since the first step of a revision as opposed to the first step associated with writing process but i believe the advantages that Belcher identifies (a way to clarify and distill your opinions) are identical either way. Me establish early on exactly what question I’m trying to answer and why it’s worth answering for me, starting with the abstract at the very beginning has the added bonus of helping. In addition think it is helpful to start thinking in what my approach may be, at the least as a whole terms, before I start thus I have a feeling of how I’m going to go about answering my big question.
So now you’re probably wondering: if this right part comes at the very beginning of the writing process, how will you write on the results and conclusions? You can’t know what those may be unless you’ve actually done the research.
“…writing the abstract commits that are first to nothing. It’s just a way to prepare and clarify your thinking.”
It’s true that the results therefore the conclusions you draw until you have some real data to work with from them will not actually be known. But understand that research should involve some sort of hypothesis or prediction. Stating everything you think the total results may be in the beginning is a way of forming your hypothesis. Thinking in what the implications will soon be in the event the hypothesis is proven helps you think of why your projects shall matter.
Exactly what if you’re wrong? Let’s say the total email address details are completely different? Let’s say other facets of your quest change as you choose to go along? Let’s say you wish to change focus or improve your approach?
Can help you all of those things. In fact, I have done all those things, even with writing the abstract first. Because writing the abstract first commits you to nothing. It’s just a way to organize and clarify your thinking.
Here is an early draft of the abstract for “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study: A Proposed Metaconcept and Its Practical Application,” a write-up I wrote that has been recently accepted by College & Research Libraries:
Motivation: As librarians, the transferability of information literacy across one’s academic, professional, and private life is not difficult to grasp but students often neglect to see how the abilities and concepts they learn included in an information literacy lesson or course might apply to anything other than the immediate research assignment.
Problem: a good reason because of this could be that information literacy librarians concentrate on teaching research as an ongoing process, an approach that has been well-supported because of the Standards. Further, the procedure librarians teach is the one associated primarily with only one genre of research—the college research essay. The Framework allows more flexibility but librarians may well not be using it yet. Approach: Librarians might reap the benefits of teaching research not merely as an activity, but as an interest of study, as it is done with writing in composition courses where students first study a genre of writing and its own context that is rhetorical before to write themselves.
Results: Having students study several types of research may help cause them to alert to the numerous forms research usually takes and could improve transferability of data literacy skills and concepts.
Conclusions: Finding how to portray research as not only an activity but additionally as a topic of study is more on the basis of the new Framework.
This is certainly probably the time that is first looked over this since I originally wrote it. It’s a little messy and as I worked and began to receive feedback, first from colleagues and mentors, then from peer reviewers and editors while I recognize the article I eventually wrote in the information here, my focus did shift significantly.
For comparison, this is actually the abstract that appears into the preprint associated with article, that will be scheduled to be published in 2019 january:
Information literacy instruction based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education has a tendency to give attention to preliminary research skills. However, research is not only an art but also an interest of study. The ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education opens the door to integrating the study of research into information literacy instruction via its acknowledgement of the contextual nature of research. The metaconcept is introduced by this article that scientific studies are both an activity and an interest of study. The use of this metaconcept in core LIS literature is discussed and a model for incorporating the study of research into information literacy instruction is suggested.
So obviously the published abstract is a complete lot shorter since it had a need to fit within C&RL’s guidelines. In addition it doesn’t proceed with the recommended format exactly nonetheless it does reflect an evolution in thinking that happened as part of the revision and writing process. This article I wound up with had not been the content I started with. That’s okay.
Then exactly why is writing the abstract first useful if you’re just planning to throw it out later? Because it focuses your research and writing from the very start. When I first came up with all the idea for my article, I only knew that in reading Naming that which we Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, I had found significant parallels between their work and information literacy. I desired to write I only had a vague sense of what I wanted to say about it but. Writing the abstract first forced me to articulate my ideas in a real way that made clear not only why this topic was of interest for me but how it could be significant to your profession in general.