When would you write an abstract?

When I searched “write abstract before or after paper” on Google, the first result was “Write your paper first, save abstract for last”, and the second result was “Writing an abstract months before the paper”. I used to write abstract after finishing the paper; however, after writing a few abstracts for conference and paper proposals, I realize that abstract should not be the first step nor the last of writing a paper.

Writing an abstract in the early stage of a research and submit it for conference/paper proposal would pre-define the directions (including methodology, hypothesis, theories) the research would take, which could become problematic later. I think an abstract should be written after we collected and analyzed a significant part of the data. When I already have some key findings and confirm that the methodology works and the data would answer my research questions, I can write the abstract and commit to writing the paper.

Why not save it for last? As I said, I used to write abstract after everything else was done. And I know it’s a common approach. However, it was a wrong approach for me because I often found myself get lost and confused due to the large amount of data and theories that potentially help answering my questions. Therefore, some parts of my papers were not very well-connected and consistent. On the other hand, writing an abstract right after reading and analysis were done helped me to define the focus of my research and main arguments. This is just something I learned as a novice researcher. It could be wrong or could be improved, so I welcome all suggestions.

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