Focusing Your Research By Writing the Abstract First

Focusing Your Research 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 Information Literacy Librarian in the University at Albany, SUNY. She’s got presented and published on research linked to practical applications of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy included in information literacy instruction. Her current research is focused on exploring the metaconcept that research is both an action and an interest of study. Follow her on Twitter at @ahosier.

In 2012, I attended a few workshops for brand new faculty on how best to write very first peer-reviewed article, step-by-step. These workshops were loosely centered 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 in my opinion in addition to other new scholars in the space at that time. Write the abstract first? Wasn’t that the right part that was expected to come last? How do the abstract is written by you if you don’t even understand yet exacltly what the article will probably be about?

We have since come to regard this as the utmost useful piece of writing advice We 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 little bit of wisdom, write my essay for me I find that I am generally regarded with polite skepticism, especially by people who strongly feel that your introduction (notably less your abstract) is better written at the final end for the process rather than at the start. This can be fair. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. But i wish to share why i do believe beginning with the abstract is beneficial.

Structuring Your Abstract

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

For each and every piece of scholarly or professional writing I have ever written (including that one!), I started by writing the abstract. In doing 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 that an abstract will include five parts, paraphrased below:

  • The motivation: Why is this extensive research important?
  • The difficulty statement: What problem are you currently trying to solve?
  • Approach: How did you go about solving the difficulty?
  • 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 beginning of the writing process, I mean the very beginning. Generally, it’s the first thing i actually do after I have an idea I think might 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 as the first step of a revision rather than the first faltering step of the writing process but i do believe the advantages that Belcher identifies (an opportunity to clarify and distill your thinking) are exactly the same in either case. For me, starting with the abstract during the very beginning has the added bonus of helping me establish in the beginning precisely what question I’m trying to answer and why it’s worth answering. In addition think it is helpful to start thinking by what my approach will likely be, at the 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 this writing process, how could you write on the outcomes and conclusions? You can’t know very well what those will likely to be and soon you’ve actually done the research.

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

It’s true that your particular results while the conclusions you draw from their store will not actually be known until you have some real data to do business with. But keep in mind that research should involve some sort of prediction or hypothesis. Stating what you think the total results is likely to be in early stages is a means of forming your hypothesis. Thinking as to what the implications would be in the event the hypothesis is proven can help you think about why your work shall matter.

But what if you’re wrong? What if the total answers are very different? What if other facets of your quest change as you are going along? Imagine if you need to change focus or replace your approach?

Can help you all of those things. In reality, We 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 way to organize and clarify your thinking.

An Illustration

Here is an early draft associated with the abstract for “Research is a task and a topic of Study: A Proposed Metaconcept and its own Practical Application,” an article I wrote which was recently accepted by College & Research Libraries:

Motivation: As librarians, the transferability of data literacy across one’s academic, professional, and private life is easy to understand but students often are not able to observe how the relevant skills and concepts they learn as part of an information literacy lesson or course might apply to anything other than the research assignment that is immediate.

Problem: A reason for this could be that information literacy librarians give attention to teaching research as a process, an approach that has been well-supported because of 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 may well not yet be deploying it. Approach: Librarians might benefit from teaching research not just as an action, but as a subject of study, as it is through with writing in composition courses where students first study a genre of writing and its rhetorical context before trying to write themselves.

Results: Having students study different types of research will help cause them to become alert to the numerous forms research usually takes and may improve transferability of data literacy skills and concepts.

Conclusions: Finding methods to portray research as not merely a task but also as a topic of study is more in line with the new Framework.

This is probably the time that is first looked at this since I originally wrote it. It’s a little messy and while I recognize the content I eventually wrote into the information here, my focus did shift significantly when I worked and began to receive feedback, first from colleagues and mentors, then from peer reviewers and editors.

For comparison, this is actually the abstract that appears within the preprint regarding the article, that is scheduled to be published in January 2019:

Information literacy instruction in line with the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for advanced schooling tends to focus on preliminary research skills. However, research is not just a skill but additionally a subject 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 short article introduces the metaconcept that scientific studies are both an action and an interest of study. The effective 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 given that it needed to fit within C&RL’s guidelines. It does not proceed with the recommended format exactly nonetheless it does reflect an evolution in thinking that happened as part of the writing and revision process. This article I wound up with had not been the content I started with. That’s okay.

Then how come writing the abstract first useful if you’re just likely to throw it out later? Because it focuses your research and writing through the start that is very. When I first came up utilizing 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 publish about this but I only had a vague feeling of what I desired to say. Writing the abstract first forced me to articulate my ideas in a real way that made clear not only why this topic was of great interest for me but how it may be significant to your profession all together.

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