Friday, May 30, 2008

Diff'rent Strokes

That was a TV show in the 70s, I think. With Gary Coleman.

But I was just thinking about how some people go about doing things so differently.
I was looking at a dissertation proposal with a comment from the committee chair to the effect that an abstract was unnecessary for the proposal and can only be written last anyway. I know that this is not an uncommon theory--one I've heard before.

It doesn't match, however, my experience. And so I think of the old expression "different strokes for different folks", or the related "one man's meat is another man's poison." I love the abstract. I love trying to write an abstract. I love the perspective it can give me, and I love the fact that it's something that can be done quickly. Trying to write the abstract, forces me to try to see the big picture and seeing the big picture can help me find structure and keep my writing focused and the details related to the big picture.

Now I can understand, to some extent, the opposite position. You don't really know what the abstract's final form will be until you've gotten the whole paper written, because you learn as you write. You always have to revise it at the end. So I can see how, for some people, it may seem more efficient not to write it until you know what the final form will be.

The balance of efficiency definitely shifts depending on how well you write and what benefit of perspective you get from the exercise. One thing about writing an abstract is that it is something that every writer should be able to do in 30 minutes. You probably won't have a perfect abstract after 30 minutes, but you will have a draft. That's a low cost in time.
Of course it's possible that those 30 minutes will also have a high cost of frustration.

That's neither here nor there.
Different people work differently. What works for one won't work for another. Like trying to write an abstract as an exercise, you want to try different things to see what works for you. For me, I lean towards writing as a means to clear my ideas. But other means may work better for others. Others, for example, may be more visually oriented than I, and may therefore want to use a tool that allows spatial and visual relations to help work through the relevant ideas.

To some extent, one way to interpret the above is to suggest that if you, as a writer, are not getting the results you would like, maybe the thing to do is to try some new approach, and to experiment with the way you work.

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