#173) BUILDING A BETTER ABT: A 14 Minute “ABT Build Session” from my San Diego Keynote

Here’s the last 14 minutes of the keynote address I gave last month at the combined conferences of eScience and Science Gateways in San Diego.  I had several volunteers send me their ABTs the night before.  I presented them to the audience, then did my standard breakdown/analysis making a few points about the various desired attributes of a strong ABT.  

ABT IN ACTION.  The basic challenge is to find the balance between the two opposing goals of being CONCISE but also COMPELLING.



First off, if you aren’t familiar with the ABT Narrative Template you should watch our AAAS Video that provides the basics.  It’s the tool for constructing the narrative structure of any project, presentation, program or proposal.

This is how you build good, strong ABT’s.  You can write a first draft of an ABT in less than a minute, but making it truly effective can take you months of thought and revision.

In the above video, taken from the end of a keynote address a couple weeks ago, I offer up suggestions on ABT’s written by three volunteers.  Each example I chose demonstrates a different attribute of a good ABT.

1) Wants vs Needs (cyberinfrastructure ABT) –  This examines in the context of the ABT the basic dynamic you hear from screenwriters about crafting the story of a single character on a journey in search of a goal.  The fundamental divide is between what the character WANTS in the long term, and what the character NEEDS to achieve the goal (Note:  in looking at some screenwriting websites I see that some people define these two words the opposite way — that “need” is your deep, inner life goal and “want” is what you’re seeking to help you fulfill the need — either way, it’s the same divide, the big picture versus the more immediate).

For example, you might WANT to be the world boxing champion, but you’re going to NEED some big muscles and a lot of punching skill to achieve your goal.  Watching you attain what you need to fulfill your goal is the recipe for a great story.

The same dynamic is true for science.

2) Specifics (online citizen science ABT) –  One of the fundamental rules for narrative is, “The power of storytelling rests in the specifics.”  Stories that are general (“I had a great day yesterday.”) are not as powerful as stories full of specifics (“I won $18 million in the lottery yesterday that will pay for my son’s heart transplant.”).

This was the main recommendation I had for this ABT.  Some of the “And” material wasn’t “on the narrative,” while the other material would benefit from a few more details.

3) The Real Problem (ice sheet melting ABT) –  You want to make sure you’ve dug down and found the real problem you’re interested in solving.  In this first draft, the problem is identified as the need for “unity.”  But the real problem is dealing with what is preventing unity.

Also, this ABT is more about the way research is conducted (with a unified approach) rather than the topic itself (ice sheet melting).  It’s essential that you’ve pinpointed the exact problem you’re working on and know how to state it simply and clearly.