Difference Between Abstract and Introduction in Papers

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.

difference between abstract and introduction research paperdifference between abstract and introduction research paper

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.

Searchability

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.

Background Information

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.

Length

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.

Citations

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.

Language Used

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.

Placement

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.

Necessity

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.


Abstract

Introduction

Is it always necessary?

No

Yes

Typical maximum length

200 words

500 words

Is it easily searchable?

Yes

No

Does it include background information?

Very little

Yes

Does it include citations?

No

Yes

Does it include methods?

Yes

No

Does it include conclusions and results?

Yes

No

Does the language include jargon and abbreviations?

No

Yes

Does it come first in the paper?

Yes

No

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.

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