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 at the University at Albany, SUNY. She’s got published and presented on research pertaining to practical applications of this ACRL Framework for Information Literacy included in information literacy instruction. Her research that is current is 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 according to Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher.

Our first assignment? Write the abstract for the article.

These tips was shocking in my opinion therefore the other scholars that are new the space during the time. Write the abstract first? Wasn’t that the right part which was likely to come last? Just how do you write the abstract if you don’t even comprehend yet exacltly what the article will probably be about?

I have since come to view this as the most piece that is useful of advice I have ever received. To such an extent that I constantly attempt 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 realize that I am generally regarded with polite skepticism, especially by people who strongly feel that your introduction (much less your abstract) is better written at the end of the process in place of in the beginning. This is fair. What realy works for one person won’t work for another necessarily. But i do want to share why i believe beginning with the abstract is beneficial.

Structuring Your Abstract

“For me, you start 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 resolve and exactly why it is worth answering.”

For each piece of scholarly or writing that is professional 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, which I happened upon through a Google search. His recommendation is the fact that an abstract will include five parts, paraphrased below:

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

To be clear, when I say that I write the abstract at the beginning of the writing process, after all the very beginning. Generally, it is the very 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, that is to write the abstract whilst the first rung on the ladder of a revision as opposed to the first step of the writing process but i believe the advantages that Belcher identifies (a way to clarify and distill your thinking) are exactly the same in either 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. I also believe it is useful to start thinking in what my approach is likely to be, at the least as a whole terms, before I start and 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 part comes at the very beginning of this writing process, how could you write about the results and conclusions? You can’t understand what those will likely be unless you’ve actually done the research.

“…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 particular results additionally the conclusions you draw from their website will not actually be known unless you have some real data to work with. But remember that research should possess some sort of hypothesis or prediction. Stating everything you think the results would be early on is a means of forming your hypothesis. Thinking by what the implications will likely be if for example the hypothesis is proven can help you think about why your projects will matter.

Exactly what if you’re wrong? Imagine if the email address details are very different? Let’s say other facets of your quest change as you choose to go along? Let’s say you want to change focus or improve your approach?

You can certainly do all those things. In reality, I have done all those things, custom writing even after writing the abstract first. Because writing the abstract commits that are first to nothing. It’s just a real way to arrange and clarify your thinking.

An Example

Let me reveal an draft that is early of abstract for “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study: A Proposed Metaconcept and Its Practical Application,” an article I wrote that has been recently accepted by College & Research Libraries:

Motivation: As librarians, the transferability of information literacy across one’s academic, professional, and personal life is not hard to grasp but students often are not able to observe how the relevant skills and concepts they learn included in an information literacy lesson or course might apply to anything aside from the research assignment that is immediate.

Problem: a good reason with this may be that information literacy librarians concentrate on teaching research as an activity, a method which was well-supported because of the Standards. Further, the procedure librarians teach is one associated primarily with just one genre of research—the college research essay. The Framework allows more flexibility but librarians may not be using it yet. Approach: Librarians might benefit from teaching research not just as an action, but as a topic of study, as is through with writing in composition courses where students first study a genre of writing and its particular context that is rhetorical before to write themselves.

Results: Having students study different types of research may help make them conscious of the many forms research might take and could improve transferability of data literacy skills and concepts.

Conclusions: Finding ways to portray research as not merely an action but in addition as a subject of study is much more on the basis of the new Framework.

This can be possibly the time that is first looked over this since I originally wrote it. It’s a little messy and while I recognize this article I eventually wrote in the information here, my focus did shift significantly as I worked and started initially to receive feedback, first from colleagues and mentors, then from peer reviewers and editors.

For comparison, this is actually the abstract that appears when you look at the preprint of this article, which can be scheduled to be published in January 2019:

Information literacy instruction on the basis of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for advanced schooling tends to focus on preliminary research skills. However, research is not just an art and craft but also 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 of the contextual nature of research. This short article introduces the metaconcept that scientific studies are 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 scholarly study of research into information literacy instruction is recommended.

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

Then how come writing the abstract first useful if you’re just planning to throw it out later? As it focuses your research and writing through the start that is very. Whenever I first came up with all 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 sense of the thing I wished to say. Writing the abstract first forced me to articulate my ideas in a way that made clear not only why this topic was of interest in my opinion but how it may be significant to your profession all together.