So you’re finally done writing that paper that took months of research and now the last thing you have to do is to write that abstract. You’re scratching your head thinking, “how can I possibly summarize all my research in 100 words?!“ How’s this for an inspiring example? Thanks to Joe Kraus at the University […]
So you’re finally done writing that paper that took months of research and now the last thing you have to do is to write that abstract. You’re scratching your head thinking, “how can I possibly summarize all my research in 100 words?!“
How’s this for an inspiring example?
Thanks to Joe Kraus at the University of Denver for sharing!
But if you need a little help writing your abstract, check out the following resources:
Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2009). Abstracts and the writing of abstracts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. [catalog record]
Suggested books under “Writing Manuals & Style Guides” in our Great Books for Scientists guide [link]
The UW-Madison Writing Center Writer’s Handbook on writing abstracts [link]
The Writing Center of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill handout on abstracts [link]
Milk Money was actually born at Dartmouth. I first uttered the idea for a book on the dairy industry to my friend Tom Zoellner, while we were sitting on a bench on the Dartmouth green. Zoellner, an author of numerous books including Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World, was working on his MALS degree at Dartmouth and also teaching a class on creative nonfiction in White River Junction, of which I was a student.
The year was 2009 and the dairy industry was experiencing some of the lowest milk prices in history. It was a full blown "dairy crisis," and farmers were going bankrupt at a shocking rate. The whole thing wouldn't have meant much to me, except that my daughter went to daycare on a family dairy farm in Barnard. They were my connection to the dairy industry, and I was never able to hear bad news about milk prices in the same way again. I saw how hard that family worked, and that they made a high quality product consumers valued. Yet they were losing money, and it seemed unfair and un-American. A freelance journalist at the time, I thought it would be an interesting and worthy topic to investigate.
The first step in writing a nonfiction book (at least for a no-name like me) is to create a book proposal and a sample chapter; something to sell to a publishing house. Think of it like a business plan for a start-up hoping to win seed funding. It takes a lot of work researching, interviewing, organizing information, and then writing. I did the bulk of the quiet toiling in the clerestory carrels in Baker Library. Ever since my days at Vermont Law School, Baker has been the place I go when I really want to get something done. The placid atmosphere among the stacks, or at the tables on the third and fourth floors, makes me want to turn off the email and concentrate. I can work in other places, but Baker is the redoubt I have held as a solemn space for honest effort.
About a year after I finished the book proposal I was lucky enough to land a book contract with the University Press of New England. By that time, I was working as a writer at Dartmouth and had built a "tiny house" in my backyard as a writing studio. But I still returned to Baker to take out books and to use the amazing interlibrary loan programs, and as a staff member I didn't have to pay for the privilege. I work at Tuck now, and while there are plenty of quiet places here to work, I still take shelter in Baker when I have to be most productive. I look forward to continuing the habit with my next book, whatever it may be.
Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe reflected my experience in teaching Humanities 1-2 at Columbia University. The "catastrophe" was the fact that the founding works of Western civilization are not widely taught in our colleges. My book was based on the paradigm of Western civilization established by Leo Strauss and others: Athens and Jerusalem. The founding epic of Athens was the Iliad; the founding epic of Jerusalem was Exodus. Over the centuries we derived science and philosophy from Athens and religion from Jerusalem. Socrates emerged as the hero of philosophy, Jesus of religion. Neither wrote a word, but what they said has lived; and both were condemned to death.
But without the research capabilities of Baker-Berry I would not have encountered a momentous debate within the Church. In about the year 300 an argument erupted: Clement of Alexandria and Origen maintained that the philosophy of Athens could be useful to the Church, but Tertullian replied that scripture was enough. That Clement and Origen eventually prevailed had profound results over the following centuries. Science could be taught, and scientists could work as teams within Western universities.
Osama bin Laden was an effective but unaware promoter for my book, which appeared in 2001, soon after 9/11. The war of al Qaeda was a jihad against Western culture as it affected Middle Eastern Islam. I was invited to appear on the television program "Booknotes" to discuss my book and broadcast from its studio in Washington, D.C. As we talked on the air I could see the dome of the Capitol through a picture window.
At about that time, did al Qaeda strike in Washington, D.C.? Anthrax was found in a letter to Sen. Tom Daschle's office. The result was that mail delivery in D.C. ceased for several days, resulting in chaos.
Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe sold more copies as a result of "Booknotes" than the Yale University Press had anticipated.
My recent book, The Living Moment: Modernism in a Broken World, also benefited from the research facilities of Baker-Berry. Here I was not writing about the ancient world but about authors I knew well and who are familiar to educated people, beginning with the chapter "Frost and Eliot: Modernisms." Here I had to retrieve articles I had read by various critics -- and a few I had written -- and might not have been able to find some of them in periodicals I once had read.
The Baker-Berry reference staff not only located them but printed them out as I stood there and marveled.
Writing a book can often feel like an isolating endeavor. It requires finding a wellspring of concentration, focus, and inspiration in the midst of a busy life. It is a process that involves quieting the mind as much as it demands finding and sustaining an intellectual spark – something that will carry you through long hours in front of the computer as you grapple with voice, character, or data as well as the slog of peer review-generated revisions or picking one’s way through an index. In this sense, books are very unglamorous things. They are at once beautiful and fragile, for all the ways they seem to be paragons of permanence, even in virtual form. Books are made through conversations – with oneself, with others, with ideas.
My latest book, Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine (University of California Press, 2012), involved more than a decade of research and many conversations with interlocutors in Nepal and Tibetan areas of China. This ethnography is about the defense and transformation of traditional medicine in the 21st century and about what it means to say that a medicine “works.” It is about what Tibetans call their “science of healing” and about how and why we humans suffer and fall ill. At its heart, though, the book renders a set of relationships with people who have shaped me – as a scholar and as a person. In this sense, the book belongs as much to me as it does to my dear friend Gyatso, a fourth generation healer from the Himalayan region of Mustang, Nepal, or to Mingkyi, a vivacious Tibetan medicine practitioner and anthropologist who lives between Lhasa and Oxford, not quite an insider in either world but somehow, remarkably, at home in both.
Pieces of this book predate my arrival at Dartmouth in Fall 2006 and include fragments of my PhD dissertation. Other passages were first shaped for academic articles and then had to find their way, skillfully, into the book’s narrative in new ways. I wrote a great deal of the text by engaging in another sort of conversation with my field notes: writing my way through these rough and ready versions of ethnographic reality, polishing them, lending them a sense of structure and coherence. That is to say the process of writing one’s way from notes to finished text transforms the dynamic reality of fieldwork into something more fixed, if no less real. Experiences like butterfly wings pinned up against a spot in time, affixed to argument. Sometimes I find this process deeply creative – liberating, even. Other times I find it profoundly constraining. In both moments, though, writing remains joyful. It is a gift and a luxury as much as it remains a necessity, the currency with which I am valued and earn my keep as an academic.
The Dartmouth Library and its people helped to shape this book in many ways; I will end by mentioning one. I wrote much of this book and revised the text in its entirety on the second floor of Rauner Library. I found necessary solitude and solace in the calm of the room: empty first thing in the morning, filled with undergraduates dozing beneath chemistry textbooks or Russian novels by afternoon. Sometimes from this perch I felt like a bird nesting in one of the trees on the College Green. The building sheltered me, allowed me space to breathe, while its grand windows provided a certain glimpse onto lived reality – life beyond the book, outside of the text, in the world.