But it’s only 300 words”

flickr photo by Chrispl57 https://flickr.com/photos/chrispl57/5321817498 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’ve spent a substantial part of this weekend writing less than three hundred words … and I’m still not happy.

In addition to the report I need to produce as part of the Confirmation of Candidature process (more to come on that!), I also need to give a verbal report. Usually this is in the form of a presentation to a small group composed of your supervisory team and a rapporteur, followed by a Q&A. A mini viva in effect. My supervisor asked if I’d prefer to do a seminar; much the same format, but invitations would be extended more widely within the Institute. That seemed like a good opportunity to speak to a wider audience, perhaps people I’ve not met before, and possibly attract a wider range of feedback. So I went for it.

We’ve now reached the point however where that seminar needs to be publicised, so I need to produce an abstract, which is where this weekend’s three hundred words came in. This is my first abstract proper and I think it’s safe to say I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much over so few words … even when writing job applications. In order to plan and develop what I needed to say, I followed the advice of my supervisor and turned to the abstract writing section in Rowena Murray’s ‘Writing for Academic Journals’. She points in particular to Brown’s (1994) advice consisting of an eight questions framework. I’d come across these before at some other time and saved them for future use, so it looked like that future had arrived. Although Brown suggests that the task should be completed in 30 minutes, it took me twice that … at the first pass. I then needed to take that and redraft it into a format suitable for an abstract, which is where the ‘fun’ really started. Struggling to find my mojo, I turned to more experienced people than me; those whose writings had already passed scrutiny and been published. I must have looked at fifty or sixty abstracts in academic papers and tried to pull out some themes and similarities. To me, the best ones seemed to be the simplest – here’s the problem, this is my context, here’s what I did, here’s what I found and these are the implications. Simple.

I tried to take what I’d learned from the literature and apply it to my answers to Brown’s questions, but really struggled to get a writing flow. This then turned into worrying about whether I was struggling to articulate what I’d learned because what I was researching had little value or meaning. Or maybe it had, but I wasn’t good enough to be able to express it (now I see why they say Imposter Syndrome never really goes away!). So I found myself agonizing not just over sentences, but phrases and even words!

Well I said I would have it ready by Monday (tomorrow), so despite my reservations over the standard, I also believe that it’s important to ‘ship.’  Whatever the shortcomings, if it stays in my digital folder, it achieves nothing, so getting something out there is better than nothing. Here it is:

What should we make of teachers’ claims that Twitter provides them with powerful professional learning?

Social media have become a significant feature of many people’s everyday lives; teachers are no exception and some are using those media in educational contexts.This preliminary study explores the ways in which teachers have appropriated Twitter to support their professional learning. What are they doing, why are they doing it and what are they getting out of it?

With much of the activity taking place online, a digital ethnographic approach was chosen; this incorporated a semi-structured interview, participant observation within Twitter, and analysis of blog posts and tweets. Consistent with previous research, the findings confirm that teachers share (resources and ideas), discuss educational issues and their practice, develop and maintain connections with one another which combats isolation, and grow professionally. In addition, the study also indicates they celebrate the work of their peers, cultivate offline contact and activity, appear to have a predominantly positive outlook and are emotionally invested in their experience. Adopting a sociomaterial sensibility yielded insights into the enabling technology. The Internet, wireless access, portable devices and the applications which run on them were working together to enable teachers to personalise their professional learning. The previously silent materiality now ‘pings’ for attention. In association with technology, some teachers have become more self-motivated, self-organised  and able to exploit informal opportunities for their professional learning.

Schools may need to consider how to acknowledge, accommodate and nurture the learning some colleagues are undertaking of their own volition. Those experiences may represent an untapped resource which could be harnessed for the wider good of school communities.

Despite the fact that I’m posting this ‘in public,’ I know the reality is that few people will read it. I think I’m particularly concerned about it being ‘right’ because this will  be the first thing I am putting out to a local academic audience. It’s important for me to have the respect of my peers, so if my abstract is naive and poorly constructed, how will they view me, let alone whether they’ll feel sufficiently interested to give up an hour and come to listen to me talk. What I perhaps ought to remind myself is that I’m still only in my first year and have much to learn … but unfortunately that’s not making me feel any less queasy!

If you have any advice to offer on how I might improve my abstract, do please add a comment. Thanks.


Brown, R. (1994). Write right first time. Literati Newsline, 95, 1-8.

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