What is the difference between Abstract, conclusion and summary?
The above question is self explanatory, still I would like to break it into two parts.
Q1. What is the difference between abstract and summary/conclusion?
Q2. What is the difference between summary and conclusion ?
Sadly, a lot of today's abstracts and conclusions read as: Abstract: "In this paper, we will show X using data Y and study Z", Conclusions: "In this paper, we showed X to study Z using data Y" — i.e., more often than not, the only difference is in the tense of the passage.
See classic texts `K. K. Landes. A scrutiny of the abstract. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 50(9):1992, 1969.` and `J. F. Claerbout. A scrutiny of the introduction. Stanford Exploration Project, 59:287 – 291, 1988.`
See How to write a paper. Here's a choice excerpt: *There are papers that may beneﬁt from a conclusion section, but they are relatively few (say, less than 5% of the papers). Certainly, the inclusion of a conclusion section should not be the default.*
The abstract is written for the potentially interested reader. While writing it, keep in mind that most readers read the abstract before they read the paper (sounds obvious, but many abstracts read like the authors did not consider this). The abstract should give an impression of what the paper will be about. Do not use jargon or any abbreviations here. It should be understandable for non-specialists and even for people from fields somehow far away.
The conclusion should conclude the paper and is written for the reader who already has read the paper. In other words: most readers have read the paper when they read the conclusion. Again, this sounds obvious but, again, a lot of conclusions do not read like this. It does not make sense to write a conclusion like "we have shown this and that by using this and that method". Well, this is what the reader has just read (and what he may know since he has read the abstract). A proper conclusion should tell the reader what she can or he could do with the newly acquired knowledge. Answer the question "So what?".
A summary sums up the paper. I am not sure if a paper needs a summary.
I've written some tips for abstracts some time ago:
- Avoid jargon. Although this sounds obvious, most abstracts contain jargon in one way or the other. Of course one can not avoid the use of specific terminology and technical terms but even then there is an easy check if a technical term is appropriate: Try to find a definition on the internet (if the term has a fairly stable wikipedia page, there it is not jargon) – if you do not succeed within a few minutes you should find a different word.
- Use buzzwords. This may sound to contradict the previous point and in part it does. But note that you can use a buzzword together with its explanation. Again, the example from the previous point works: “Funk metric” may be a buzzword and the explanation using the name “Finsler” is supposed to ring a bell (as I learned, it is related to Hilbert’s 23rd problem). This helps the readers to find related work and to remember what was the field you were working in.
- General to specific. In general, it’s good advice to work from general to specific. Start with a sentence which points in the direction of the field you are working in. So your potential audience will know from the beginning in which field your work is situated.
- Answer questions. If you think that your work answers questions, why not pose the questions in the abstract? This may motivate the readers to think by themselves and draw their interest to the topic.
- Don’t be afraid of layman’s terms. Although layman’s terms usually do not give exact description and sometimes even are ridiculously oversimplified, they still help to form a mental picture.
Just to add a little on this, **abstracts** should be short (1/2 page in my field) and should try to explain all of the key points of the paper, including the methodology, key findings, implications, etc. The goal of the abstract is to let the reader decide if there is any value in reading the entire paper.
For abstracts, I always follow the advice in Simon Peyton Jones's presentation "How to write a great research paper" (He credits Kent Beck, but I can't find the exact reference): 1. State the problem 2. Say why it's an interesting problem 3. Say what your solution achieves 4. Say what follows from your solution. It's amazing how much clearer and to the point your abstracts become.
I downvoted because, for technical fields, using jargon in the abstract is almost always a good thing. Show me a mathematics abstract with no "jargon". But you should avoid using terms that your intended audience will not already know.
@DavidKetcheson I stand by my recommendation. If you use a technical tern for you can find a good definition quickly on the internet (wikipedia, google books or sometimes the arxiv) then use something else.
@Dirk your last comment contains some grammar and spelling errors that prevent me from understanding it.
@DavidKetcheson Ooops - typing on a telephone in not my strength… Here goes: I stand by my recommendation. If you use a technical term for which you can't find a good definition quickly on the internet (wikipedia, google books or sometimes the arxiv) then use something else. Because in this situation it may well be that the community has not agreed on the notion yet.
'It does not make sense to write a conclusion like "we have shown this and that by using this and that method"' - I somewhat disagree here. The reader has read the details of the paper before reading the conclusion (or maybe not even that, if they follow the abstract - conclusion - rest of text method of approaching an unknown paper), but especially due to this large amount of information, it is important that the conclusion briefly summarizes the key content in a few sentences. Cf. with presentation slides, where the last slide summarizes the key points.
Yes, this. The difference between the abstract and the conclusion is in **the intended audience.** A caveat is that many readers will skip to the conclusion to get an idea of what they will know after reading the paper. But you still write the conclusion as if to an audience that has already read it.
Also, there is somewhat called abrégé, which is placed right after the heading of each chapter. Abrégé is _very_ (not longer then 1/2 of a page, i.e. it is shorter then typical abstract) and describes the _chapter_ instead of _document_. (Feel free to correct me).
A1: In the context of a journal article, thesis etc., the abstract should provide a brief summary of each of the main parts of the article: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. In the words of Houghton (1975), "An abstract can be defined as a summary of the information in a document". The Conclusions (in some cases also called a Summary) chapter is a summary of the main ideas that come out from the discussion (e.g., Katz, 2009) and hence only a subset of the abstract. Usually, the Conclusions sum up the discussion whereas the abstract only reiterates the most important of the conclusions.
A2: The difference between a summary and the conclusions is less clear. First, it is not clear if the summary is to be compared with the Abstract or the Conclusions. A summary may also be more appropriate as Conclusions when writing an overview where the conclusions may not be easy to identify. As stated above some journals use the word Summary instead of Conclusions. Sometimes this can also be labelled Synthesis and cap off a lengthy discussion.
Houghton, B., 1975. Scientific periodicals: their historical development, characteristics and control. Hamden CT, Shoe String Press.
Katz, M.J., 2009. From research to manuscript. A guide to scientific writing. Second edition. Berlin, Springer.
I don't think it's accurate to say that the conclusion is a subset of the abstract. Some elements from the abstract make it into the conclusion, but the conclusion will likely include information not in the abstract as well, such as a detailed discussion of "why it all matters".
A conclusion section might for example include speculations about some patterns in the data, or proposals for future research. It basically is really the only place to put your opinions. A summary I expect would not include any opinions and just re-iterate the findings and weaknesses in the study.
As the other answer mentioned, the abstract should include all the main aspects of the paper in an abbreviated form - the topic, the hypotheses, the participants and study design, and the results.
Abstract: Author short story about what is in it (no matter good or bad, valuable or scrap) Conclusion: Authors statement about the findings justified by the detailed content (findings/achievement/affirmation of a doubtful fact/negation of an established belief...etc) for a reader who has a guided-travel across by the author.
abstract = what is to be done by researcher in the given paper.
summary = what is accomplished in the paper under consideration.
conclusion = what are the limitations of study, what needs to be done by upcoming researchers.
- The abstract is like a movie trailer.
- The summary is an arrangement of actions/events of movie in a short way.
- The conclusion is the objective of the movie in light of the evidence and arguments given in the movie.
The conclusion of one person can vary from that of another.
Now, the question becomes what is the difference between movie trailor and summary?
You could go so much further with this analogy. E.g., summary and conclusion together are like a review of a movie, with the summary being, well, the summary and the conclusion the interpretation and rating.