Structuring Your Research Paper: Knowing the difference between abstract, introduction, and conclusion

Research papers serve as essential tools in the dissemination of knowledge and the advancement of academic disciplines. Academic papers follow a well-defined structure and format that assists readers in comprehending the content efficiently. They adhere to a well-defined structure and format, which is often referred to as IMRaD: Introduction, Methodology, Results, and Discussion. In addition to these core elements, there are three crucial components; the Abstract, Introduction, and Conclusion, which enhance the deliverance of your research rationale and findings. Understanding the nuanced functions of these sections is crucial for researchers seeking to enhance their paper's clarity, engagement, and influence in the academic and scientific community.

These three components play distinct roles in the structure and communication of a written work, be it a research paper, a thesis, a report, or an article. To write effectively, it's essential to grasp the unique functions and structure of each.

What is an Introduction?

The introduction serves as the opening of your written work, where you set the stage for what is to come. It helps to make the first impression on your readers. Its primary purpose is to provide readers with an overview of the subject matter and the context in which your work exists. 

Furthermore, a well-written introduction outlines the research problem and introduces the main thesis or argument. Some journals may refer to this section as 'Background,' and in others, it might not have a separate heading.

Key elements of an introduction include:

1. Opening Sentence: A compelling hook or opening sentence that grabs the reader's attention and motivates them to continue reading.

2. Thesis Statement: A concise thesis statement that outlines the main argument, purpose, or objective of your work.

3. Background Information: Necessary background information or context to help readers understand the topic.

4. Scope and Significance: A brief discussion of what will be covered and why it is relevant or important.

An introduction should be clear, engaging, and give readers a sense of what to expect. While it provides some insight into the content, it does not delve into the details or findings of the work.

What is an Abstract?

The abstract is a concise summary of the entire document. Its primary purpose is to give readers a quick overview of the key points, methods, findings, and conclusions of the work. They are typically found at the beginning of research papers and articles and are often used by readers to determine whether they want to read the full text. It serves as a preview of the work and helps readers quickly gauge its relevance.

Key elements of an abstract include:

1. Objective: A clear statement of the research objective or purpose.

2. Methods: A brief description of the research methods or approach used.

3. Results: Summary of the key findings or results.

4.  Conclusions: A concise statement of the main conclusions or implications.

These elements are usually presented in a standalone paragraph or a few paragraphs, depending on the specific journal's guidelines.

The length of an abstract varies, often ranging from 150 to 250 words, though it can be longer for some longer papers or theses. Furthermore, it also depends on the style and guidelines of the publication.

Watch this FREE informative webinar to learn more about writing strong abstracts and structuring your research article for publication. 

What is a Conclusion?

The conclusion, as the name suggests, marks the end of your written work. Its primary purpose is to summarize and reiterate the main points and findings discussed in the body of the text. 

Key elements of a conclusion include:

1. Restatement of Thesis: A restatement of the main thesis or argument.

2. Summary of Findings: A brief summary of the key findings and results.

3. Implications: Discussion of the implications of the findings and their significance.

4. Closing Thoughts: A final thought or reflection on the subject matter.

The conclusion is the final part of the paper, summarizing the key findings, their implications, and the main takeaways. In some formats, this section follows the 'Discussion' and may not have a distinct heading.

The conclusion should leave the reader with a sense of closure and a clear understanding of the key takeaways. It is not the place to introduce new information or ideas but rather to reinforce the ideas presented in the body of the work.

What’s the Difference Between Abstract, Introduction, and Conclusion?

To better understand the distinctions and relationships between these three sections, here is a table comparing the features or characteristics of the abstract, introduction, and conclusion for your better understanding:







Near the beginning, after the Title

At the beginning, before the Methodology

At the end, following the Discussion

Part of IMRaD Structure

Not part of IMRaD

Part of IMRaD

Not part of IMRaD


Always has a heading

May or may not have a heading depending on a journal format

May or may not have a heading depending on journal format


Summary of the entire paper

Context and research problem

Summary of key findings, implications and takeaway


Usually 150-250 words, but can be longer

Varies but typically a few paragraphs

Varies but typically a few paragraphs


Provides a brief summary of the main points in the paper and key findings

Offers context and introduces the research problem, question or objective

Summarizes key findings, their implications and primary takeaways



While these sections serve different functions, it's crucial to avoid repeating the same information. The abstract provides an overview, the introduction sets the stage, and the conclusion wraps up the key points. Repetition can bore readers and waste valuable space. Make each section unique and tailored to its purpose.

The abstract, introduction, and conclusion are the pillars that support the structure and impact of research papers. Understanding their differences and functions is fundamental to effective academic writing. By delving into their relevance, we can uncover their true significance, ensuring that the message of our research reaches its intended audience with clarity and impact. 


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