Abstract vs introduction – easily write both!

Navigating the world of academic writing can often be tricky, particularly when it comes to distinguishing key sections like the abstract and the introduction.

Understanding the difference between an abstract and an introduction is essential to crafting a compelling, comprehensive piece of research work.

This blog aims to demystify the “abstract vs introduction” conundrum, discussing the key differences, distinct purposes, and methodologies for writing both. 

From summary points to citation rules, we provide a concise yet detailed guide to enlighten and empower readers to produce impactful abstracts and introductions that effectively encapsulate their research topic and spur readers to delve into their entire study.

What is the Difference Between an Abstract and an Introduction? Key Differences

When it comes to academic writing, two of the most commonly used sections when reading a paper or report are the abstract and introduction. While the purpose of both the abstract and introduction is to provide the reader with a clear understanding of the purpose and scope of the research paper or dissertation, there are some significant differences between the two.

Here are the main differences between an abstract and an introduction when writing a research paper, project report or thesis, and dissertation. 

PurposeIt’s a concise summary of the entire research paper, providing key findings and the overall conclusion.It serves as the initial part of the paper where the topic is introduced, and the context and background information are provided.
ContentContains the main objective of the research, the methods used, the results obtained, and the main conclusions.Contains a description of what is being studied (background information), why it’s important, and how the topic has been studied in the past.
Position in PaperComes immediately after the title page.Comes immediately after the abstract.
TensePrimarily uses past tense as it discusses completed research.Uses present tense to set the stage for the research.
Length (APA 7th Edition)Maximum of 250 words.No specific length requirement, but usually between four paragraphs to a page or a page and a half.
Formatting OptionsCan be formatted as a single paragraph or as a structured abstract with headings.Standard paragraph format, no specific structure required.
CitationsShould not contain in-text citations as it summarizes original research.Can and usually does contain in-text citations as it includes background information and contextual facts.

The first distinction revolves around the purpose.

The abstract’s main aim is to summarize the contents of your research paper, similar to how cliff notes or spark notes give a summary of a book or play. Its purpose is to provide a concise overview of the paper’s content and findings, helping readers quickly discern if the paper aligns with their research interest, saving them time and resources.

On the other hand, the introduction is the first section and serves to give the reader the fundamental understanding necessary to comprehend the research presented in the paper. It will include different details compared to the abstract, focusing on setting the stage for your research and why it matters.

The second difference lies in their length.

Abstracts are usually and outline and restricted in their length, especially for journal submissions, with most falling between 200 to 400 words.

Contrarily, introductions cover more material, naturally requiring more words. They are not as regulated by journals in terms of length and should aim for approximately one and a half to two and a half pages.

This length allows you to be concise but also provide enough information for the reader to understand your upcoming research.

The third and final difference is the content. Your abstract should encapsulate your entire paper in a summarized form, covering the:

  • background knowledge,
  • methods,
  • results,
  • discussion,
  • and conclusion.

Conversely, the introduction should not cover all these aspects. It should mainly address why your work is important, the background knowledge necessary to understand your research and previous studies on the topic.

Here is a cheat sheet for the structure of each:

abstract vs introduction

How do you Write an Abstract?

To write an effective research paper abstract, start by identifying your abstract type: descriptive (brief overview) or informative (detailed summary). Next, adhere to the five-section structure:

  1. Purpose and Motivation: State your study’s objective and its relevance.
  2. Problem: Clearly articulate the problem or question your research addresses.
  3. Methods: Briefly explain your significant research methods, avoiding unnecessary detail.
  4. Results: Summarize key results, relating them back to your research problem.
  5. Conclusion: Discuss implications and suggest potential future research.

Remember to follow the specific guidelines of the journal or conference you’re submitting to, including word count and formatting requirements.

Avoid copying text from your paper.

Instead, write the abstract from scratch, ensuring relevance and avoiding redundancy. Include only crucial keywords to make your work discoverable.

How to Write a Good Abstract

Writing an amazing abstract involves several important steps:

  1. Characteristics: An abstract should be 200 to 250 words long and can be structured as one long paragraph or split into two. It should be a concise summary of your paper that informs the reader’s decision on whether or not to continue reading.
  2. Content: The content of the abstract should be broken down into about six sections.
    • a. Introduction: The first one or two sentences should be comprehensible to anybody and provide a general summary of your topic. Then, go into more depth about the subject, which should be understandable for someone in your field. Remember to reference any external sources.
    • b. Identifying a Gap: One to two sentences should clearly identify a gap in knowledge that your paper addresses. This should clarify the research question or hypothesis and point out what the reader can expect to learn from your paper.
    • c. Methods: Detail the research methods used in your study. This could be anything from qualitative and quantitative research to specific techniques like surveys or microscopy.
    • d. Results: Describe the main findings of your research. Be selective and focus on the key results that align with your research question and fill the knowledge gap identified earlier.
    • e. Conclusion: Summarize the significance of the study in one to two sentences, providing a concise takeaway point for your reader.
    • f. Implications or Future Work: If applicable, provide a sentence about the potential implications of your research or directions for future work.
  3. Order: Write the abstract last, as it should encapsulate the entirety of your paper, from the hypothesis to the conclusions and potential future directions.
  4. Avoid Discussion or Critique: The purpose of the abstract is to provide commentary. Do not include any discussion or critique. Stick to a factual account of what you did, the methods you used, the results you obtained, and your conclusions.
  5. Language: Use clear, concise language that is free from jargon. The abstract should be understandable to both experts in your field and general readers.
  6. Refinement: Dedicate sufficient time to refine your abstract. Despite its short length, it’s the first piece of writing that readers will see, so it’s worth perfecting.

Remember, following this structure will help ensure that your abstract is clear, comprehensive, and engaging for your readers.

What is an Introduction?

An introduction establishes the context of your research and provides a clear rationale for its necessity. It starts with a broad overview of your research area, highlighting established knowledge, then transitions to identifying gaps that your research aims to fill.

Your introduction should then outline how your study intends to address these gaps, leading to a concise hypothesis or study objective.

This section should be compact, representing about 10% of the total dissertation length, and provide a complete overview of the context of your study and the specific reasons for conducting it.

How to Write a Good Introduction

Writing a good introduction requires strategic presentation of information, starting with broad context then narrowing down to your specific research question and objectives.

Begin with a strong, clear statement outlining your research area, highlighting what is already known about the subject.

This background information should be relevant and concise, supported by cited sources. It should lead the reader towards the knowledge gap or problem your research is addressing.

This part of the introduction pinpoints where existing information is insufficient, explaining why and how filling this gap will contribute to the field.

Next, present your research objectives and hypothesis. This part demonstrates how your research intends to fill the identified gap. The hypothesis should be brief and predictive, often using an ‘if, then’ format. Some examples of that include:

  1. If nanoparticles are used to deliver chemotherapy drugs, then the targeted cancer cells’ uptake of the drug will increase, minimizing harm to healthy cells.
  2. If the expression of a specific genetic marker is upregulated in a certain disease, then targeted gene therapy could potentially alleviate the disease symptoms.
  3. If the frequency of extreme weather events increases due to climate change, then patterns of species distribution and biodiversity will shift in ecosystems.
  4. If machine learning algorithms are trained with larger, diverse datasets in radiology, then the accuracy and precision of image-based diagnosis will improve.
  5. If public policies are reformed to prioritize renewable energy sources, then carbon emissions could decrease significantly over a defined period.
  6. If cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are integrated into virtual reality environments, then the treatment outcomes for anxiety disorders may improve.

While creating the introduction, ensure your language is clear and concise.

Use active voice and strong verbs to enhance readability. Be mindful not to overuse first-person pronouns. It’s advisable to write the introduction after the other sections of your paper, ensuring that it accurately and effectively sets the stage for the content that follows.

Remember, the introduction should captivate your reader, encouraging them to explore the rest of your work.

Abstract vs. Introduction — Key Takeaways

As we conclude this informative journey, we hope you’re now confident in distinguishing between an abstract and an introduction and their roles in your academic work.

Key takeaways:

  • Distinct Purposes: An abstract is a concise summary of the entire research paper, providing key findings and the overall conclusion, enabling readers to quickly determine whether the paper aligns with their research interest. Conversely, an introduction sets the context and provides the necessary background information for the reader to understand the research topic.
  • Differing Content: The abstract encapsulates the paper’s main objective, methods used, results obtained, and conclusions, while the introduction focuses on the study’s relevance, previous research on the topic, and why the research is important.
  • Position in Paper: The abstract is placed immediately after the title page, while the introduction follows the abstract.
  • Writing Approach: Writing a good abstract requires a succinct summary of the entire study, strictly adhering to the word limit (usually between 200-250 words) and avoiding in-text citations. A good introduction, however, is longer and sets the context for the research, often containing in-text citations for referencing background information.
  • Impact on Reader Engagement: Both the abstract and the introduction are critical for engaging readers. A well-written abstract allows readers to quickly determine whether the paper is relevant to their interests, while a compelling introduction encourages readers to delve into the details of the research study.

A clear understanding of their different purposes, structures, and requirements will enable you to set a clear, comprehensive stage for your research topic, attracting readers and reviewers in academia. 

Remember, an abstract is a succinct, quick overview of your entire document, while a good introduction sets the context and highlights the significance of your research study. Mastering these two sections is fundamental to engaging your audience and giving them a reason to read on. Keep this guide handy as you delve into your next academic writing task!

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.