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 writing about.

Allison Hosier is an given information Literacy Librarian at the University at Albany, SUNY. She’s got published and presented on research pertaining to practical applications of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy as part of information literacy instruction. Her research that is current is on exploring the metaconcept that scientific studies are both an activity and an interest of study. Follow her on Twitter at @ahosier.

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

These tips was shocking for me together with other scholars that are new the room at the time. Write the abstract first? Wasn’t that the right part that was supposed to come last? Just how do the abstract is written by you in the event that you don’t even comprehend yet exacltly what the article will probably be about?

I have since come to regard this as the utmost piece that is useful of advice I have ever received. So much so that I meet, both new and experienced that I constantly try to spread the word to other scholars. However, whenever I share this bit of wisdom, I find that I am generally regarded with polite skepticism, especially by people who strongly believe that your introduction (never as your abstract) is best written during the end of this process as opposed to in the beginning. This is fair. What realy works for just one person won’t work for another necessarily. But I would like to share why I think 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 in the beginning precisely what question I’m trying to resolve and exactly why it’s worth answering.”

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

  • The motivation: how come this extensive research important?
  • The situation statement: What problem have you been trying to solve?
  • Approach: How do you go about solving the situation?
  • Results: What was the takeaway that is main?
  • 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 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 can be to write the abstract write my paper because the step that is first of revision as opposed to the first rung on the ladder regarding the writing process but i do believe the huge benefits that Belcher identifies (a chance to clarify and distill your ideas) are exactly the same in either case. In my situation, beginning with the abstract during the very beginning has the added bonus of helping me establish in early stages precisely what question I’m trying to answer and why it’s worth answering. I also think it is helpful to start thinking about what my approach will undoubtedly be, at 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 part comes at the very beginning of the writing process, how can you write on the results and conclusions? You can’t understand what those is supposed to be until such time you’ve actually done the study.

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

It’s true that your results therefore the conclusions you draw from them will not actually be known until you have some real data to work well with. But remember that research should possess some type of hypothesis or prediction. Stating what you think the results are going to be early on is an easy method of forming your hypothesis. Thinking in what the implications will be should your hypothesis is proven makes it possible to think of why your projects will matter.

Exactly what if you’re wrong? Imagine if the results are very different? What if other areas of your quest change as you go along? Let’s say you need to change focus or change your approach?

You are able to do all of those things. In reality, I have done all of those things, even with writing the abstract first. Because writing the abstract commits that are first to nothing. It’s just a real way to organize and clarify your thinking.

An Illustration

Let me reveal an early draft regarding the abstract for “Research is a task and a Subject of Study: A Proposed Metaconcept and Its Practical Application,” an article 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 see how the skills and concepts they learn included in an information literacy lesson or course might apply to anything other than the immediate research assignment.

Problem: A reason because of this may be that information literacy librarians give attention to teaching research as a procedure, a strategy that was well-supported because of the Standards. Further, the process librarians teach is the one associated primarily with only one genre of research—the college research essay. The Framework allows more flexibility but librarians might not yet be utilizing it. 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 rhetorical context prior to trying to write themselves.

Results: Having students study various kinds of research may help make sure they are conscious of the many forms research might take and might improve transferability of information literacy skills and concepts.

Conclusions: Finding approaches to portray research as not only an action but also as an interest of study is more on the basis of the new Framework.

This will be possibly the first time I’ve 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 when you look at the preprint regarding the article, which can 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 basic research skills. However, scientific studies are not merely an art but in addition a subject 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 associated with the nature that is contextual of. The metaconcept is introduced by this article that research is both a task and a topic 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 had a need to fit within C&RL’s guidelines. In addition it doesn’t follow the recommended format exactly but it does reflect an evolution in thinking that happened included in the revision and writing process. This article I wound up with had not been this article I started with. That’s okay.

Then how come writing the abstract first useful if you’re just likely to throw it out later? As it focuses your research and writing through the start that is very. Whenever I first came up because of 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 experienced 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 way that made clear not just why this topic was of interest if you ask me but how it can be significant to the profession all together.