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The Prime Abstract. A.K.A., How I turned my giant project into something that I didn’t have to slice up into little bits, bury in the backyard, and pretend isn’t going to get me in trouble with the law. Why do you need one?.

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The prime abstract

The Prime Abstract

A.K.A., How I turned my giant project into something that I didn’t have to slice up into little bits, bury in the backyard, and pretend isn’t going to get me in trouble with the law.

Why do you need one
Why do you need one?

Graduate School asks you to do a bunch of things. It requires that you talk about your work in dozens of ways, using vocabulary that you may not yet feel comfortable using. It also puts you in a position where you have to declare your professional associations, again, using information that can be esoteric.

So how do you adopt those practices while effectively communicating your work? Can you explain your work to your friends and family? How about to yourself?

Why a 1 pager is nice
Why a 1-pager is nice

Opportunities to develop your work depend on having strong relationships with mentors/faculty/professionals /colleagues/cohorts/dogs/cats/oxen/and pigmy marmosets

A one-pager lets you show people that you have organized your work in a rigorous manner, that you value their time when talking about your work, and that you are motivated to incorporate them into your work without overwhelming them with your own problems conceptualizing your work

It gets your act together and lets you see the totality of your work in a way that helps you finish your work!

What it is
What it is:

  • What – a paragraph that concisely states what your research is – not what it’s about, but what it really is. It gets you to think about:

    • A higher order question – something that resonates with any reader whether it be your friend or a Nobel Laureate (not implying that your friend isn’t a Nobel Laureate in his/her own right)

    • A sentence or two that explicitly states what your research does

    • A way of declaring what kind of professional you want to be by stating what field of study you contribute to

    • A way of showing you understand the depth of your work by showing that you’ve thought about the implications of your work in other disciplinary contexts.

Let s try writing a what paragraph
Let’s try writing a “What” paragraph:

  • This research will…

    • For example, this research will study the hoof patterns of oxen, comparing them to postmodern representations of satyrs. I will use a C536 reverse transcriptase test to determine if dogs can look up.

  • Now you try: This research will…

Declaring your team
Declaring your team!

Now write a statement that says what body of literature this work will contribute to. Remember, this is how you professionalize your expertise.

This research will contribute to studies in the fields of _____________,

Maybe you have two fields that your work directly impacts so add another if you need to


With further implications in the fields of
“With further implications in the fields of…”

Now ask yourself what other people in other fields might do with your work. For example, if you are studying how voting practices break down among minorities in a given population, what would an antrhopologist say, or a sociologist? This is how you connect to other people and demonstrate that you don’t work in a silo. Think about a couple of practical fields and how you would conceptualize putting your work in the context of those fields:

_________________, ________________

The higher order question
The higher order question

Now go back to your first sentence (which hasn’t been written yet!). What question is this research trying to answer. For example, what is the relationship between violence an popular culture? How do we conceptualize cultural anxieties in popular culture? (Yes, I used two. That’s okay.)

Ask a couple that relate to your own work:

The time and place of your research
The time and place of your research

Now that you have a “what” paragraph, you can get started on a couple of ways to approach the time and place of your research.

Every study has a time and place, even those done in an undisclosed laboratory. Your task is to figure out how to show you are oriented to your work in a deep, deep, deep way.

The physical parameters
The physical parameters

If you are studying people, where are they located?

If you are studying phenomena in a lab, who or what is impacted by this work? That too is a space that needs to be understood.

What defines the boundaries of the place you are studying?

More importantly, why does it matter that you’re paying attention to this place?

The history of a place or thing
The history of a place or thing

  • If you are writing about a big issue, how has that issue developed?

    • Think about major events that shaped the circumstances that produce your work. If you’re doing research on present day global financial networks, shouldn’t you know something about a big event like the 2008 global financial crisis and how that makes your work relevant?

      Write down 3 major events that make your work relevant.

      Now think about how to write a sentence about how these events shaped your work:

The time of your research
The time of your research

Since the 1970s, International Relations experts have embraced game theory to explain the behavior of non-national actors. Recently, new methods have developed that help us understand why cats are… catty, using more qualitative approaches. A recent study that extracted the DNA of the platypus demonstrated that starter and stop codons for retroviruses are mischaracterized. Now scholars are arguing with each other again.

“This research address…

Now you’ve placed what you know about the research, about the field, and said that you know why your work is urgent and relevant.

The gears in the machine you ve built
The gears in the machine you’ve built

  • Think about your work in stages. You know that you will have to:

  • Prepare your work. That stage of your research will require different things to different researchers.

    • If qualitative – what conditions will you produce for the environment you will produce this work?

    • If quantitative – what variables are you going to use and where will they be drawn from?

    • If theoretical – what claims or statements are you going to analyze or critique?

  • Stage I of this research will…


What are your units of measurement? What are you applying it to (what resources).

No matter what you study, you’re going to be measuring something. A literature scholar can measure a narrative by applying some theories to a focused, professional reading of a given text. A biologist may be applying a prescribed set of outcomes on a specimen using an established technique.

What are your techniques?

Stage II of this research will…

Analysis and discussion
Analysis and discussion

In stage I you created a frame of analysis by setting up the conditions of your work

In stage II you described your techniques, applying them to something (a text, a group of people, a pitre dish)

In stage III you will discuss your results, perhaps by describing the value of the work, being critical of it, and then discuss the implications of your work.

Stage III will evaluate the results and discuss the ______ and ________ implications.

Now you have three paragraphs
Now you have three paragraphs

They aren’t perfect yet, and they may never be. But at least now you’re in a position, even if caught on the spot to describe your work in an organized, deep, and multi-dimensional manner. You can be direct about your work to yourself and others.

Now you can use this for funding applications, for paper submissions.

You can email this to potential colleagues or to future mentors and committee members.

And you look spiffy too.