Writing abstracts and introductions can be confusing for writers who are new to APA, but the process becomes simplified and the content differentiated when we consider how each section functions. Which serves as a concise summary of the complete article that could be easily used to index the work in a database? Which serves as a gentle entry into a topic, provides context, and postulates a thesis? If you’ve guessed that an abstract is the concise summary and an intro is the gentle entry, you’re absolutely right.
When submitting to a scholarly journal, you’ll definitely want to prepare an abstract. If the work’s end goal is assignment completion for a course, your professor’s requirement of including an abstract serves as a fantastic opportunity to develop the writing skills needed for publication. Abstracts are challenging to write and require practice because they’re so brief (under 250 words) and critical—they’re the hooks or “elevator speeches,” if you will, that are designed to draw readers to your research when source material is being perused. Abstract paragraphs should be rich in search terms that align with the main points of the overall work—this will also help guide traffic to your research if the published work is archived online.
In an introduction, you establish the problem being studied and describe the context of your research. Unlike an abstract, a complete introduction may take a few pages, depending on the complexity of your work. There are several critical questions that need to be answered in an intro: What similar research does this work align with? How is this research furthering the conversation? What is the purpose of this study, and are there relevant theories that need to be introduced?
Here are some basics to become familiar with when developing abstracts and introductions…
- Choose active voice instead of passive
- Use present tense to discuss results and conclusions that are currently applicable
- Use past tense to discuss measured outcomes
- Stick to between 150 to 250 words (each journal will have its own limit)
- Avoid evaluating the paper’s contents
- Move from the general to the specific, ending with a thesis
- Describe relevant research, in brief, and provide appropriate citations
- Explain the importance of the problem and need for research
- Write for a wide professional audience, not just specialists
- Avoid bias (especially when discussing controversy or conflicts)
Visually, the two sections will look very different on the page due to formatting requirements and varying lengths. It can be helpful to have a snapshot of how these sections look in a final document—check out pages 2 and 3 of the Purdue OWL’s APA sample paper. And, as always, if you have any questions as you draft your own abstracts and introductions, drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like additional details straight from the source, consult The Publication Manual of the APA, 6th edition, sections 2.04 (abstracts) and 2.05 (introductions).