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While writing a manuscript for the first time, you might find yourself confused about the differences between an abstract and the introduction. Both are adjacent sections of a research paper and share certain elements. However, they serve entirely different purposes. So, how does one ensure that these sections are written correctly?
Knowing the intended purpose of the abstract and the introduction is a good start!
What is an abstract?
An abstract is a very short summary of all the sections of your research paper—the introduction, objectives, materials and methods, results, and conclusion. It ends by emphasising the novelty or relevance of your study, or by posing questions for future research. The abstract should cover all important aspects of the study, so that the reader can quickly decide if the paper is of their interest or not.
In simple terms, just like a restaurant’s menu that provides an overview of all available dishes, an abstract gives the reader an idea of what the research paper has to offer. Most journals have a strict word limit for abstracts, which is usually 10% of the research paper.
What is the purpose of an abstract?
The abstract should ideally induce curiosity in the reader’s mind and contain strategic keywords. By generating curiosity and interest, an abstract can push readers to read the entire paper or buy it if it is behind a paywall. By using keywords strategically in the abstract, authors can improve the chances of their paper appearing in online searches.
What is an introduction?
The introduction is the first section in a research paper after the abstract, which describes in detail the background information that is necessary for the reader to understand the topic and aim of the study.
What is the purpose of an introduction?
The introduction points to specific gaps in knowledge and explains how the study addresses these gaps. It lists previous studies in a chronological order, complete with citations, to explain why the study was warranted.
A good introduction sets the context for your study and clearly distinguishes between the knowns and the unknowns in a research topic.
Often, the introduction mentions the materials and methods used in a study and outlines the hypotheses tested. Both the abstract and the introduction have this in common. So, what are the key differences between the two sections?
Key differences between an abstract and the introduction:
- The word limit for an abstract is usually 250 words or less. In contrast, the typical word limit for an introduction is 500 words or more.
- When writing the abstract, it is essential to use keywords to make the paper more visible to search engines. This is not a significant concern when writing the introduction.
- The abstract features a summary of the results and conclusions of your study, while the introduction does not. The abstract, unlike the introduction, may also suggest future directions for research.
- While a short review of previous research features in both the abstract and the introduction, it is more elaborate in the latter.
- All references to previous research in the introduction come with citations. The abstract does not mention specific studies, although it may briefly outline previous research.
- The abstract always comes before the introduction in a research paper.
- Every paper does not need an abstract. However, an introduction is an essential component of all research papers.
If you are still confused about how to write the abstract and the introduction of your research paper while accounting for the differences between them, head over to Elsevier Author Services. Our experts will be happy to guide you throughout your research journey, with useful advice on how to write high quality research papers and get them published in reputed journals!