What is the difference between an abstract and the introduction? This is a question that plagues many academic writers. In order to understand the difference, one should first understand the purpose each element plays in academic writing.


Abstracts in academic writing are intended for publication. Once the work has been published, the abstract acts as a summary for the reader so that the reader can determine if they want to take the time to read more of the work. When choosing a fiction novel, readers skim the back cover. When selecting research, they skim the abstract. When readers access the abstract, they are primarily thinking, “What can I learn from this study? Does it relate to my work?" Therefore, the reader is looking for a ​clear and concise summary of the document. When writing an abstract, common topics may include background, objective, methods, results, or conclusions.


Keep in mind that for student papers, APA 7th edition formatting does not actually require an abstract (see S​ection 2.9 of the APA Manual) since the overall purpose is designed for publication. However, it is not uncommon for instructors to require their students to include an abstract in their assignments. Oftentimes, this is because the instructor is preparing their students for writing their dissertation or thesis. Check your assignment or course syllabus to ensure you are meeting the requirements of your instructor.


​​An introduction, on the other hand, is not a complete summary of document. Its primary purpose is to get the reader's attention by providing more details on the background of the topic and promote its relevance and significance. Here, the author also provides a brief overview of the content.


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