Abstract vs Introduction: Explaining the Differences and Similarities

November 14, 2022

Writing a research paper can be challenging because you have to consider so many factors before you start to put words on the paper. You have to choose a research topic, go through the entire research process, create an outline, write your first draft, and proofread your work for coherence, factualness, and clarity.

One area many students don’t seem to get right is on the outline of the paper. Often, they struggle to see a visible difference between an abstract and an introduction, so much so that they confuse the two to mean the same thing. 

Before we go any further, it’s important to understand that an introduction and an abstract for a research paper are not synonymous. They’re different in length, context, writing approach, and the intended purpose.

In this guide, you’ll learn about abstract vs introduction to understand the differences between these two parts of a research paper. In the end, you should find it easy to write a more comprehensive research paper that your instructor will love to read.

Without further ado, let’s get to it.

What is an Abstract in a Research Paper?

An abstract is a section of a research project that gives a reader a condensed version of a research project. Written in past tense, the abstract shows why the study was necessary, the overall purpose of the project, the research question, the materials and methods used, and the drawn conclusions and results. In some cases, an abstract might include an executive summary, which is a conclusive sentence that demonstrates the significance of the research.

The overall goal of an abstract in a research paper is to give a reader the complete summary of the entire project. In fact, by reading this section alone, one should get a clear understanding of the topic and understand the significance of the study.

Abstract are particularly useful because they help with decision-making. After reading the abstract of your research paper, a reader can decide if they want to read the rest of the document for more insights.

What is an Introduction in a Research Paper?

An introduction is the first main section in a research paper. Written immediately after the abstract and before the literature review, the introduction is the part of the project that gives a reader more information on the topic under investigation.

By reading the introduction, a reader should easily understand the knowledge that already exists on the subject and clearly see why your research is necessary for the topic in question. Given that you’re trying to add new understanding to the subject, the aim of your study and research objectives should be very clear.

Where possible, and if indeed necessary, the introduction of the research paper should include a hypothesis. 

Abstract vs Introduction: How Do They Compare?

The comparison table below shows the side-by-side comparison between an abstract and an introduction in a research paper.

What it meansA condensed version of an entire research paperA section that gives the scope and purpose the research paper
DefinitionAn overview of the entire paper written in 300 wordsA section of the paper that first exposes a reader to a subject
FunctionAn abstract states the purpose of the paper, shows what a researcher accomplished, and indicates the conclusions madeAn introduction gives a reader the direction they need to know what to expect in the rest of the paper.
StandaloneAn abstract can be a standalone documentAn introduction cannot be a standalone document
What it includesAn abstract includes the problem, purpose, methods used, results, and conclusion of the study. An introduction includes a hook, background information, and a declarative statement

Explaining the Differences between an Abstract and an Introduction

There are at least three significant differences between an abstract and an introduction, and it’s important to learn about them before you start writing a research paper.

Abstract vs Introduction: Purpose

The purpose of an abstract is to give your reader a clear, concise summary of the study you conducted on a particular subject. Written in past tense, the abstract is the section that demonstrates whether the paper fits the needs of the reader enough to get them to read other section of the paper. So to grab their attention, pique their interest, and get them to want to continue reading, you should write the abstract in such a manner that it conveys what the paper is about and why it’s important.

An introduction, on the other hand, prepares your reader to discover what you did in your study. It’s in the introduction that you explain:

  • Why your study on the subject is important
  • Exactly what the study examines
  • The studies already conducted in the field

The introduction should also give a summary of what you did in the study.

Abstract vs Introduction: Structure

An abstract doesn’t require the use of subheadings and it’s mostly one block of text. Still, you can structure the abstract such that the information you present flows in a given sequence. You may want to organize your information in the following order:

  • The significance of your study
  • The basics of your subject
  • Questions you’re trying to answer
  • How you arrived at your answer and
  • The answer to the question

By including this information in their right sequence, you’ll not only be able to give a clear overview of the whole research paper but also give your readers the reasons to keep reading. 

The introduction, on the other hand, may have subheadings to better prepare your reader to understand the study. So you might want to have the following structure overall:

  • The importance of the study
  • Background information that provides readers with a clear roadmap for the study
  • A touch on the previous research that have an impact on the study
  • Reasons to investigate the topic even further
  • What you intend to do in the study

Structuring your introduction in this manner makes it easy for your readers to care about the study.

Abstract vs Introduction: Length

Many journals require that an abstract be between 200 and 600 words long. For your research paper, you’ll have to make yours at most 350 words, which means you have to write a lot in a small space.

An introduction tends to be longer, often up to 2 pages double-spaced for a normal research article. 

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}