If you’re writing a research paper, it’s important to understand the difference between an abstract and an introduction. While you may not need both an abstract and an introduction in every paper, understanding their differences can help you know when and how to use them properly.
Abstract and Introduction: Different Purposes
The main difference between an abstract and an introduction is the purpose. Each of these sections offers something to the reader, but they don’t exist for the same reason.
Abstract: Provide a Summary
An abstract’s purpose is to provide a summary of what you’ve studied and your results. It doesn’t delve deeply into background information or offer a lot of detail. In fewer than 200 words, the abstract should tell the reader what you studied, the methods you used, and what you discovered.
Introduction: Offer Background Information
An introduction, on the other hand, is about capturing the reader’s attention and offering some background information about the topic. It clearly states your hypothesis and tells the reader why you are interested in this area. An introduction lets any reader know enough about your topic to help them understand your research.
Abstract vs. Introduction: 9 Key Differences Between Them
In addition to having a different purpose, these two research paper sections differ in several key ways. You can see these differences in examples of abstracts and sample research paper introductions.
If your work is published, the abstract for your paper will show up in future search results for the topic. This is far less likely with an introduction since readers usually need to pay to access the entire paper.
An introduction includes background information your reader needs to know about your topic. This may include previous research, explanation of terms, historical details, and more. Many introductions include a lot of helpful information for the reader to understand prior to reading the rest of the paper. If background information appears in the abstract, it needs to be very short.
A typical abstract is about 200 words, but introductions may be longer. Some journals may limit introduction length to 500 words, but others impose no limits.
In an introduction, you will need to reference previous studies in your field. To do so, you’ll need to properly cite the sources you mention. In an abstract, you don’t mention these sources at all, so citations are not necessary.
Details About Methods
An introduction almost never includes the details about the methods you used in your research. It may give a phrase about the sample population, such as “in patients with asthma,” but it does not include specifics. An abstract does include these details, such as sample size, characteristics, research methods, and more.
Conclusions and Results
An introduction’s purpose is to introduce your reader to your topic. It never includes the results of your work or your conclusions. However, an abstract is a high-level summary, and it needs to tell the reader what you discovered and the conclusions you reached.
An abstract is written for the layperson to understand it. It should avoid highly technical references, jargon, and other difficult language. An introduction can delve more deeply into these terms, using jargon and abbreviations.
Although it may seem surprising, the abstract comes before the introduction in a research paper. The reader should encounter your abstract first so he or she can understand the big picture of your research. Next, most research papers include a table of contents, followed by the introduction.
Not all assignments or journals require an abstract. However, you always need an introduction in a research paper.
Introduction vs. Abstract: A Quick Reference Guide
If you want to see the difference between an abstract and an introduction at a glance, this quick reference guide can help.
Is it always necessary?
Typical maximum length
Is it easily searchable?
Does it include background information?
Does it include citations?
Does it include methods?
Does it include conclusions and results?
Does the language include jargon and abbreviations?
Does it come first in the paper?
Communicate Your Research Effectively
Abstracts and introductions are both important aspects of many research papers. If you’re planning to write a research paper, take some time to brush up on your academic writing skills, including tips for writing an abstract. Understanding the process will help you ensure you create your best work and communicate your research effectively.