An Abstract or an Introduction — What’s the Difference?

Are you working on a paper or scholarly article? Need to know the difference between an abstract and an introduction? Here’s what you need to know. 

An abstract and an introduction are two different sections of a research paper, thesis, or dissertation. An abstract is a short summary of the entire piece, and it comes before the table of contents. An introduction is a full-length chapter, and often includes a layout of the rest of the piece.

Abstract vs. Introduction — Key Takeaways

An Abstract

  • Can be very short — a basic abstract only needs four sentences.
  • A summary of the entire work. 
  • Used in scholarly, academic, or scientific papers and articles.
  • Comes before the table of contents. The page is not numbered.

An Introduction

  • Is a full-length chapter.
  • Often includes a map or layout of the piece to come. 
  • Found in papers, articles, books, essays, compendiums, and more.
  • After the table of contents. Considered a part of the work itself.

Abstracts

An abstract is a brief summary of the entire paper, that provides a concise overview of the research question, methods, results, and conclusions. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, an abstract may be “as many as a few hundred words but often much shorter.” 

It should be able to stand alone as a summary of the paper, allowing readers to quickly determine whether the paper is relevant to their interests.

An Example Abstract Format

For those in the sciences, the American Medical Association says, “Abstracts should summarize the main point(s) of an article and include the objective, methods, results, and conclusions of a study.”

In the arts and humanities — my field — a basic abstract format includes four statements:

  1. They say/I say
  2. Methodology
  3. Thesis
  4. Takeaway

What do these all mean? Let’s dive in.

They Say/I say

This is where you position your research within the broader field of scholarship. For example: 

Many scholars believe that vampires don’t like sunshine (they say), but most aren’t considering all the vampires who do like sunshine (I say).

Methodology

This is where you discuss the kind of research you did. For example:

Over the course of one year, I trekked across Transylvania looking at ancient records and interviewing contemporary vampires.

Thesis

This is where you summarize the main argument (thesis) that your paper asserts. For example:

This paper reveals that 77% of vampires do in fact tolerate or even enjoy sunshine.

Takeaway

The takeaway answers the question, So what? This is where you make a case for the broader implications of your claim. For example:

By understanding the diurnal (daytime) nature of most vampires, we can renovate our understanding of their culture and begin to break down barriers between vampires and non-vampires.

Introductions

As opposed to an abstract, which comes before a paper, the introduction is the first section of the paper, which introduces the research question, provides background information on the topic, and outlines the purpose and objectives of the study. The introduction sets the stage for the research and helps readers understand why the research was conducted and what it hopes to achieve. I had a professor who used to say that the introduction “sets the table for the meal of the paper to come.”

Information from the abstract may appear in the introduction, but it will be expanded upon and more detailed. 

The Format of an Introduction

An introduction, unlike most abstracts, will contain multiple paragraphs. While the abstract comes before the table of contents, the introduction comes after, and, according to the Oxford Style guide and common academic practice, begins on page #1. 

An introduction will often include the following information:

  1. Opening Gambit — An anecdote, joke, personal narrative, etc. to ‘hook’ the reader.
  2. They Say/I say — Position your work in the broader field of study. This will be more fleshed out than in the abstract. 
  3. Thesis Statement — Your main argument.
  4. Methodology — An overview of the kind of research you conducted. (Note that the methodology comes after the thesis statement in an introduction, unlike in the abstract.)
  5. Map of the Paper — This is where you tell your reader what to expect from each section of the paper. “In chapter 1, I look at…” etc.
  6. Restate the Thesis — Restate your main argument.

As to the “map of the paper,” I should note that not everyone agrees on this — the Chicago Manual of Style advises against it. And yet, it is a common academic practice. When in doubt, always check with your teacher or publisher.

Abstracts and Introductions

The main difference between an abstract and an introduction is that an abstract is a brief summary of the entire paper which appears before the table of contents, while an introduction provides a more in-depth view of the research question, background information, and the purpose of the study. Unlike abstracts, many introductions include a map of the paper that follows.

Need Help with Abstracts, Introductions, and More?

EditorNinja is here to help! We’re a team of professional content editors, across line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. All EditorNinja editors are MFA trained and look forward to editing your written content!

Schedule a free editorial assessment today to see how using EditorNinja can save you days of time, buy back hours that you can use to create more content or work on other things, and make on average a 3.5x ROI, or at least $12,000+,  on your investment.