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 are currently talking about.

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


In 2012, I attended a series of workshops for brand new faculty on how best to write very first peer-reviewed article, step-by-step. These workshops were loosely according to Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher.

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Our first assignment? Write the abstract for our article.

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These tips was shocking for me plus the other scholars that are new the room at that time. Write the abstract first? Wasn’t that the right part that has been likely to come last? Just how do you write the abstract in the event that you don’t even comprehend yet exactly what your article will likely be about?

We have since come to view this as the utmost useful piece of writing advice We have ever received. So much so that I constantly try to spread your message to many other scholars that I meet, both new and experienced. However, whenever I share this little bit of wisdom, I discover that I am generally regarded with polite skepticism, especially by those who strongly feel that your introduction (not as your abstract) is best written at the final end of this process as opposed to at the start. This can be fair. What realy works for one person won’t work for another necessarily. But i wish to share why I think beginning with the abstract is beneficial.

Structuring Your Abstract

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

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

  • The motivation: Why is this research important?
  • The issue statement: What problem are you wanting to solve?
  • Approach: How do you go about solving the problem?
  • Results: What was the takeaway that is main?
  • Conclusions: which are the implications?

To be clear, when 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 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 once the first rung on the ladder of a revision as opposed to the first step regarding the writing process but I think the advantages that Belcher identifies (an opportunity to clarify and distill your ideas) are identical in either case. For me, starting with the abstract in the very beginning has the added bonus of helping me establish in early stages exactly what question I’m trying to resolve and just why it’s worth answering. In addition believe it is helpful to start thinking about what my approach may be, at the least as a whole terms, before I start therefore I have a sense of how I’m going to go about answering my big question.

So now you’re probably wondering: if this part comes at the very beginning of this writing process, how will you write on the outcomes and conclusions? You can’t understand what those will likely to be until such time you’ve actually done the study.

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

It’s true that the results as well as 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 possess some type of prediction or hypothesis. Stating everything you think the results would be in the beginning is a means of forming your hypothesis. Thinking about what the implications will soon be when your hypothesis is proven makes it possible to think about why your projects shall matter.

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

Can be done all those things. In reality, I have done all those plain things, even after 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

Listed here is an early draft of the abstract for “Research is a task and a Subject of Study: A Proposed Metaconcept and Its Practical Application,” a write-up 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 not hard to know 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 aside from the research assignment that is immediate.

Problem: A reason for this can be that information literacy librarians focus on teaching research as a procedure, a method that was well-supported because of the Standards. Further, the procedure librarians teach is the one associated primarily with only 1 genre of research—the college research essay. The Framework allows more flexibility but librarians may not yet be utilizing it. Approach: Librarians might reap the benefits of teaching research not just as an action, but as an interest of study, as it 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 different types of research may help cause them to become conscious of the numerous forms research might take and could improve transferability of data literacy skills and concepts.

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

This really is most likely the very 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 in the preprint associated with 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 tends to focus on basic research skills. However, scientific studies are not only 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 nature that is contextual of. This short article introduces the metaconcept that scientific studies are both a task 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 recommended.

So obviously the published abstract is a lot shorter because it necessary to fit within C&RL’s guidelines. It does not stick to the recommended format exactly nonetheless it does reflect an evolution in thinking that happened as part of the revision and writing process. The article I ended up with was not the content I started with. That’s okay.

Then how come 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 desired to create about this but I only had a vague sense of the things I wished 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 to me but how it might be significant towards the profession in general.

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