Demystifying the Introduction/Abstract Divide Part 2: The Abstract -->

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Demystifying the Introduction/Abstract Divide Part 2: The Abstract

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Last week’s post discussed writing an introduction, so today we’ll look at another element of academic writing that goes at the beginning of your paper: the abstract. This post will also provide you with some examples and checklists so that you can compose your abstract with confidence. And remember, requirements for abstracts may differ between programs—so double check the template or ask your instructor if you need an abstract and what format is appropriate if so.


Demystifying the Abstract Introduction divide: The Abstract


Generally, the main differences between abstracts and introductions are that an abstract, unlike an introduction, is a summary, and not a teaser summary, a complete summary. This is because the purpose of the abstract is very different from an introduction. 

When you write an abstract, your reader wants to know if reading the entire article is worth their time—so they don’t just want an overview, they want to know specifics. In an abstract you want to concisely hit the main points, research findings, and conclusions of the paper. You aren’t trying to persuade your reader— instead, you’re giving everything away. In the course of your introduction, you might cite some of your background information. However, it is typically true that abstracts do not include citations—this is because the abstract is your own summary of the information you discussed in your work. 

Looking back at the sample prompt from last week’s “Introductions” post, let’s take a look at how abstracts differ from Introductions. First off, here’s a reminder of the hypothetical paper prompt we’ll be using as a guide:
“Write a 2 page reflection paper where you discuss what your writing process looks like and how you might want to change or improve your writing process to more fully embrace the practices and tips provided in the course materials.”
And now let’s look at a sample abstract that follows our guidelines:

Here’s the sample abstract:
The writing process varies from writer to writer, but for me personally I struggle with time management in my writing. My writing process includes drafting and proofreading, currently. After reading some of the Walden writing webpages, I plan to improve my process to also include brainstorming and revision in order to reflect on my papers’ scope, focus and clarity both before and after writing so that my work with be stronger and clearer for my readers.

And now compare it to the introduction from last week:
The writing process is a circular and recursive process that writers go through when composing a piece of text (Laureate, 2016). When writers take the time to prepare for writing, it can help to make the process easier (Laureate, 2015). However, sometimes writers are short on time, and it’s challenging to complete the full writing process. This has certainly been true for me. In this paper, I will discuss the bad habits of my writing process and ways that I plan to change this process per the suggestions on the Walden University Writing Center website.  My current writing process is focused solely on drafting and proofreading and this process could be significantly improved by embracing the full writing process and focusing on better time management.

Take a look at these two examples side-by-side for easier comparison:

                       Abstract                                                      Introduction
The writing process varies from writer to writer, but for me personally I struggle with time management in my writing. My writing process includes drafting and proofreading, currently. After reading some of the Walden writing webpages, I plan to improve my process to also include brainstorming and revision in order to reflect on my papers’ scope, focus and clarity both before and after writing so that my work with be stronger and clearer for my readers.

The writing process is a circular and recursive process that writers go through when composing a piece of text (Laureate, 2016). When writers take the time to prepare for writing, it can help to make the process easier (Laureate, 2015). However, sometimes writers are short on time, and it’s challenging to complete the full writing process. This has certainly been true for me. In this paper, I will discuss the bad habits of my writing process and ways that I plan to change this process per the suggestions on the Walden University Writing Center website.  My current writing process is focused solely on drafting and proofreading and this process could be significantly improved by embracing the full writing process and focusing on better time management.

See how the sample abstract hit the main points of the prompt but didn’t evaluate or offer judgement? Instead it restated the facts and conclusions in much more detail than the introduction—which only hinted at the main processes the paper would discuss changing. The abstract explained why change would be beneficial and which specific changes would be made moving forward.

The reason for this complete summary is because when researchers work they may skim hundreds of articles related to their topic of choice—and they simply don’t have the time to read articles that 1.) Don’t fully relate to their points or research or 2.) Repeat information or sources they already have. That’s why they use the abstract—to see if reading through the entire paper will be worth their time. 

A researcher may not be sure they want to read your paper, but then discover that your own conclusions mirror their own and decide to. Or they may see your conclusions and have enough other articles supporting that idea already—so including your conclusions and concisely reiterating main points is essential for an abstract. Because you need to state your conclusions, it’s best to write your abstract after your paper is complete—that way you can make a list of your main points and conclusions and then be sure to include them in your abstract.

Now let’s take a look at an abstract checklist—things to ask yourself as you’re writing and once you’re done. Does your abstract:

  • Summarize your main points, arguments and discoveries?
  • Offer no judgement?
  • Express your points concisely?
  • Describe your conclusions?
  • Avoid citing source information?

If you’d like more practice, The Writing Center has lots of great in information about abstract basics as well as a page with some examples on our website.
Have any thoughts, comments or abstract-writing tips? Share them below!

By following these guidelines and looking back at this page once you’ve completed your abstract, you can ensure that you’re differentiating between these two important elements of academic writing and completing each successfully

 
Claire Helakoski is a Writing Instructor  at the Walden Writing Center and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She has taught writing and Composition as well as acted as a writer and editor in a variety of mediums. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and enjoys reading, writing creatively, and board games of all kinds 


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