Focusing Your Quest By Writing the Abstract First

Focusing Your Quest By Writing the Abstract First

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

Allison Hosier is an given information Literacy Librarian during the University at Albany, SUNY. She has published and presented on research associated with practical applications of this ACRL Framework for Information Literacy included in information literacy instruction. Her current research is focused on examining the metaconcept that scientific studies are both a task and a topic of study. Follow her on Twitter at @ahosier.

In 2012, I attended a few workshops for brand new faculty on the best way 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 our article.

These tips was shocking in my opinion additionally the other new scholars in the area at the time. Write the abstract first? Wasn’t that the part which was likely to come last? How do you write the abstract if you don’t even understand yet exacltly what the article will be about?

We have since come to treat this as the most useful written piece advice I have ever received. To such an extent that I constantly attempt 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 those who strongly feel that your introduction (not as your abstract) is most beneficial written at the end of the process instead of at the beginning. It is fair. That which works for just one person won’t necessarily work with another. But I would like to share why i do believe you start with the abstract is advantageous.

Structuring Your Abstract

“For me, beginning with the abstract at the very beginning has got the added bonus of helping me establish in early stages precisely what question I’m trying to answer and just why it is worth answering.”

For almost 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, which I happened upon through a Google search. His recommendation is the fact that an abstract should include five parts, paraphrased below:

  • The motivation: exactly why is this research important?
  • The difficulty statement: What problem are you currently attempting to solve?
  • Approach: How did you go about solving the issue?
  • Results: What was the takeaway that is main?
  • Conclusions: which are the implications?

To be clear, when I say I mean the very beginning that I write the abstract at the beginning of the writing process. Generally, it is first thing i really do before I try to do a literature review after I have an idea I think might be worth pursuing, even. This differs from Belcher’s recommendation, which will be to write the abstract since the step that is first of revision rather than the first step of the writing process but i do believe the advantages that Belcher identifies (a way to clarify and distill your opinions) 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. In addition think it is useful to start thinking by what my approach should be, at the least in general terms, before I start so 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 this writing process, how can you come up with the results and conclusions? You can’t know what those are going to be before 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 the 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 incorporate some kind of hypothesis or prediction. Stating everything you think the results will likely to be in early stages is a way of forming your hypothesis. Thinking as to what the implications are going to be if your hypothesis is proven helps you think of why your work shall matter.

But what if you’re wrong? Imagine if the total answers are very different? Let’s say other areas of your quest change as you choose to go along? Let’s say you intend to change focus or replace your approach?

Can help you all of those things. In fact, We have done all of those things, even with writing the abstract first. Because writing the abstract first commits you to nothing. It’s just a real way to arrange and clarify your thinking.

An Example

Listed here is an draft that is early of abstract for “Research is an action and an interest of Study: A Proposed Metaconcept and its own Practical Application,” a write-up I wrote that was recently accepted by College & Research Libraries:

Motivation: As librarians, the transferability of information literacy across one’s academic, professional, and personal life is easy to grasp but students often fail to observe how the abilities and concepts they learn as an element of an information literacy lesson or course might apply to anything other than the research assignment that is immediate.

Problem: A reason with this might be that information literacy librarians concentrate on teaching research as a process, a method that has been well-supported by the Standards. Further, the procedure librarians teach is one associated primarily with only one genre of research—the college research essay. The Framework allows more flexibility but librarians might not yet be deploying it. Approach: Librarians might reap the benefits of teaching research not just as a task, but as a topic 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 will help make sure they are alert to the many forms research usually takes and could improve transferability of data literacy skills and concepts.

Conclusions: Finding approaches to portray research as not just an activity but additionally as a topic of study is more on the basis of the new Framework.

This really is probably the very first time I’ve looked at 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, here is the abstract that appears in the preprint associated with article, which will be scheduled to be published in January 2019:

Information literacy instruction on the basis of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education tends to focus on basic research skills. However, scientific studies are not just an art but also a topic 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 an interest of study. The application 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 lot shorter since it necessary to fit within C&RL’s guidelines. In addition doesn’t stick to the recommended format exactly however it does reflect an evolution in thinking that happened included in the revision and writing process. This article I ended up with was not this article 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? Since it focuses your research and writing from the very start. Whenever I first came up with the idea for my article, 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. I needed to write about any of it but I only had a vague feeling of the things I desired to say. Writing the abstract first forced me to articulate my ideas in a way that made clear not just why this topic was of interest in my experience but how it might be significant to the profession in general.