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 at the University at Albany, SUNY. She’s got presented and published on research associated with practical applications of this ACRL Framework for Information Literacy as part of information literacy instruction. Her current scientific studies are focused on exploring the metaconcept that research is both an action and a topic of study. Follow her on Twitter at @ahosier.
In 2012, I attended a series of workshops for new faculty on how to write your first peer-reviewed article, step-by-step. These workshops were loosely based on Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher.
Our first assignment? Write the abstract for our article.
This advice was shocking to me additionally the other scholars that are new the area at that time. Write the abstract first? Wasn’t that the right part which was designed to come last? Just how do the abstract is written by you if you don’t even comprehend yet exactly what your article will be about?
We have since come to view this as the most piece that is useful of advice We have ever received. So much so that I constantly you will need to spread the term to other scholars that I meet, both new and experienced. However, whenever I share this little bit of wisdom, I realize that I am generally regarded with polite skepticism, especially by people who strongly feel that your introduction (much less your abstract) is best written at the end for the process rather than at the beginning. This will be fair. What works for one person won’t work for another necessarily. But I would like to share why I think you start with the abstract is beneficial.
Structuring Your Abstract
“For me, starting with the abstract at the very beginning has got the added bonus of helping me establish in early stages exactly what question I’m trying to resolve and exactly why it is worth answering.”
For every piece of scholarly or professional writing I have ever written (including that one!), I started by writing the abstract. In doing so, I follow a format suggested by Philip Koopman of Carnegie Mellon University, that we 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 do you go about solving the problem?
- Results: that which was the main takeaway?
- Conclusions: What are the implications?
To be clear, once 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 do when I have a notable idea i believe may be worth pursuing, even before I you will need to do a literature review. This differs from Belcher’s recommendation, which is to write the abstract whilst the first faltering step of a revision as opposed to the initial step regarding the writing process but I think the benefits that Belcher identifies (a chance to clarify and distill your thinking) are the same in either case. In my situation, beginning with the abstract during the very beginning has got the added bonus of helping me establish early on just what question I’m trying to answer and exactly why it is worth answering. In addition find it beneficial to start thinking about what my approach will be, at the very least generally speaking 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 part comes at the very beginning of this writing process, how will you talk about the outcome and conclusions? You can’t understand what those will soon be until you’ve actually done the investigation.
“…writing the abstract commits that are first to nothing. It’s just a real way to arrange and clarify your thinking.”
It’s true that your results therefore 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 type of prediction or hypothesis. Stating what you think the total results are going to be in the beginning is a means of forming your hypothesis. Thinking by what the implications will undoubtedly be in the event your hypothesis is proven makes it possible to think about why your work shall matter.
Exactly what if you’re wrong? Let’s say the answers are very different? Imagine if other areas of your quest change as you are going along? Imagine if you intend to change focus or change your approach?
Can be done all of those things. In fact, We have done all those plain 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.
A Good Example
Let me reveal an early draft of this 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 data literacy across one’s academic, professional, and personal life is not hard to understand but students often are not able to observe how the skills and concepts they learn as an element of an information literacy lesson or course might apply to anything aside from the immediate research assignment.
Problem: A reason with this can be that information literacy librarians give attention to teaching research as an ongoing process, a method that was well-supported by the Standards. Further, the process librarians teach is certainly one associated primarily with only one genre of research—the college research essay. The Framework allows more flexibility but librarians may 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 is through with writing in composition courses where students first study a genre of writing and its context that is rhetorical before to write themselves.
Results: Having students study several types of research can help cause them to become alert to the numerous forms research might take and could improve transferability of data literacy skills and concepts.
Conclusions: Finding ways to portray research as not merely a task but additionally as a topic of study is much more in line with the new Framework.
This really is possibly the time that is first looked at this since I originally wrote it. It’s a little messy and while I recognize the article I eventually wrote when you look at the information here, my focus did shift significantly as I worked and find my homework started initially to receive feedback, first from colleagues and mentors, then from peer reviewers and editors.
For comparison, here is the abstract that appears within the preprint of this article, that is scheduled to be published in 2019 january:
Information literacy instruction on the basis of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education has a tendency to concentrate on preliminary research skills. However, scientific studies are not only an art and craft but additionally an interest of study. The ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for advanced schooling opens the door to integrating the research of research into information literacy instruction via its acknowledgement of the nature that is contextual of. 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 recommended.
So obviously the published abstract is a lot shorter because it needed to fit within C&RL’s guidelines. It also does not stick to the recommended format exactly but it does reflect an evolution in thinking that happened as part of the writing and revision process. The content I ended up with was not the content I started with. That’s okay.
Then exactly why is writing the abstract first useful it out later if you’re just going to throw? As it focuses your research and writing through 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 wanted to write about this but I only had a vague feeling of the thing I wanted to say. Writing the abstract first forced me to articulate my ideas in a way that made clear not merely why this topic was of great interest in my opinion but how it may be significant into the profession as a whole.