Focusing Your Quest By Writing the Abstract First

Focusing Your Quest By Writing the Abstract First

LibParlor Contributor, Allison Hosier, discusses how writing an first that is abstract help clarify what you’re currently talking about.

Allison Hosier is an Information Literacy Librarian at the University at Albany, SUNY. She has published and presented on research pertaining to practical applications associated with ACRL Framework for Information Literacy as an element of information literacy instruction. Her current scientific studies are focused 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 number of workshops for brand new faculty on how best to write very first peer-reviewed article, step-by-step. These workshops were loosely predicated on Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher.

Our first assignment? Write the abstract for the article.

These tips was shocking in my experience plus the other new scholars in the area at that time. Write the abstract first? Wasn’t that the right part that was expected to come last? Just how do the abstract is written by you if you don’t even comprehend yet what your article will probably be about?

I have since come to treat this as the utmost piece that is useful of advice We have ever received. So much so that I constantly make an effort to spread the phrase to other scholars that I meet, both new and experienced. However, whenever I share this bit of wisdom, I discover that I am generally regarded with polite skepticism, especially by those who strongly believe that your introduction (significantly less your abstract) is most beneficial written at the final end of this process instead of at the start. This will be fair. What realy works for just one person won’t work for another necessarily. But I want to share why i believe beginning 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 early on exactly what question I’m trying to resolve and just why it is worth answering.”

For virtually any piece of scholarly or writing that is professional have ever written (including that one!), I started by writing the abstract. In performing this, I follow a format suggested by Philip Koopman of Carnegie Mellon University, that I happened upon through a Google search. His recommendation is that an abstract should include five parts, paraphrased below:

  • The motivation: Why is this research important?
  • The issue statement: What problem have you been wanting to solve?
  • Approach: How did you go about solving the situation?
  • Results: What was the main takeaway?
  • Conclusions: Exactly what are the implications?

To be clear, when I say that I write the abstract at the start of the writing process, I mean the very beginning. Generally, it’s the first thing i really do when I have a good idea I think could be worth pursuing, even before I you will need to do a literature review. This differs from Belcher’s recommendation, which will be to write the abstract once the first faltering step of a revision as opposed to the initial step associated with the writing process but I think the benefits that Belcher identifies (a way to clarify and distill your thinking) are the same in any case. 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. I safe also find it helpful to start thinking in what my approach would be, at the very least in general terms, I have a sense of how I’m going to go about answering my big question before I start so.

So now you’re probably wondering: if this right part comes at the very beginning of the writing process, how will you come up with the outcomes and conclusions? You can’t know very well what those is going to be until such time you’ve actually done the study.

“…writing the abstract first commits you to nothing. It’s just a real way to arrange and clarify your thinking.”

It’s true that your particular results and also the conclusions you draw until you have some real data to work with from them will not actually be known. But remember that research should involve some kind of hypothesis or prediction. Stating everything you think the total results will likely to be in the beginning is an easy method of forming your hypothesis. Thinking as to what the implications will be if the hypothesis is proven can help you think of why your projects shall matter.

Exactly what if you’re wrong? Let’s say the answers are completely different? Imagine if other aspects of your quest change as you are going along? What if you need to change focus or change your approach?

You can certainly do all of those things. In fact, We have done all of those things, even after writing the abstract first. Because writing the abstract first commits you to nothing. It’s just a real way to prepare and clarify your thinking.

An Example

Here is an draft that is early of abstract for “Research is an action and a Subject of Study: A Proposed Metaconcept and its own Practical Application,” a write-up I wrote which was 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 understand but students often neglect to observe how the relevant skills and concepts they learn included in an information literacy lesson or course might apply to anything aside from the research assignment that is immediate.

Problem: a good reason for this could be that information literacy librarians concentrate on teaching research as an ongoing process, a strategy which was well-supported by the Standards. Further, the procedure librarians teach is certainly one associated primarily with just one genre of research—the college research essay. The Framework allows more flexibility but librarians may well not yet be utilizing it. Approach: Librarians might benefit from teaching research not merely as an action, but as an interest of study, as 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 can help make them alert to the many forms research usually takes and may improve transferability of data literacy skills and concepts.

Conclusions: Finding approaches to portray research as not merely a task but additionally as an interest of study is more in line with the new Framework.

This really is most likely the first time I’ve looked over this since I originally wrote it. It’s a little messy and while I recognize the content I eventually wrote within the information here, my focus did shift significantly as I worked and started initially to receive feedback, first from colleagues and mentors, then from peer reviewers and editors.

For comparison, here is the abstract that appears when you look at the preprint of the article, which can be scheduled to be published in January 2019:

Information literacy instruction based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education has a tendency to concentrate on basic research skills. However, research is not just an art but additionally 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 associated with the contextual nature of research. This informative article introduces the metaconcept that research is both a task and a subject of study. The effective use of this metaconcept in core LIS literature is discussed and a model for incorporating the scholarly study of research into information literacy instruction is recommended.

So obviously the published abstract is a lot shorter given that it necessary to fit within C&RL’s guidelines. It doesn’t follow the recommended format exactly nonetheless it does reflect an evolution in thinking that happened included in the writing and revision process. The article I ended 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 likely to throw it out later? Since it focuses your research and writing from the very start. I only knew that in reading Naming What 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 when I first came up with the idea for my article. I desired to create 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 can be significant towards the profession all together.