January 14


What’s the difference between an Abstract and a Summary?

By Harry Heijligers

January 14, 2021

Abstract vs Summary... that's the question.

You have spend hours, weeks even researching and writing that article, report, academic, paper...

And now, just before you want to publish it...

You ask yourself: Should I write an abstract or should I write a summary?

Abstracts and summaries both have a lot of power when it comes to promoting your article, report, research paper, or even book.

Often the terms abstract and summary are confused with each other.


There is an essential difference!

And it's important to understand what the difference is between an abstract and a summary.

After all...

After putting in all that hard and long work to complete your article or report, it would a shame when no one will ever read it!


To answer the question of what the difference is between an abstract and a summary, I first want to define both the terms abstract and summary.

Let’s start with the term summary...

What is a summary and why should you use it?

Abstract_Summary - What is a Summary quote

Summaries are a great way to view the main ideas from a long article.

Summaries are great for readers when they...

  • don’t have time to read the entire article.
  • want to decide whether or not reading the article is worth their time.
  • want to get an overview of the article quickly. It's a great starting point for reading the article.
  • want to remember what the article was about in case they read it a while ago.

A good summary helps to start the thinking process in the reader's mind. One of the objectives of a summary is to make the reader curious about the article itself. To make the reader eager to read further.

A summary is not a substitute for an article. Rather, it’s a tool to help you read only the parts of an article that are important to you and to get answers quickly.

Creating a good summary takes time.

  1. You must read the original article carefully, sometimes more than once, and select the most important points.
  2. Then, in writing your summary, try to match the order of the original article, and include only the important points.
  3. Finally, edit your summary to improve its readability, clarity, and conciseness.

A summary doesn’t necessarily have to follow the order and sequence of the original article. A summary can have “a life on its own”. It’s the ad copy for your article to persuade the reader to read your article.

Executive summaries are often used to give the highlights of a report for a specific group of readers.

The same report can have an executive summary tied to their specific interest while another group of readers get's an executive summary highlighting other topics. Almost telling a whole "other" story.

Executive summaries are especially often used in large organizations and corporations where for example the local government needs to be told another story than the local works council.

In this respect, a summary differs from an abstract, because it can be more open-ended than an abstract and...

What is an abstract and why should you use it?

Abstract_Summary - What is an Abstract quote

An abstract is a short section of text that reflects the contents of a large article or report. Abstracts are mostly written specifically for research papers.

The objective of an abstract is to give an overview of the paper’s content. It should persuade the reader to read the entire paper.

Most abstracts are structured abstracts because of the specific guidelines they have to follow.

Especially for academic reports, an abstract has specific guidelines and rules to follow. One of those rules is that the whole research paper should be reflected in the abstract in the exact sequential order as the paper itself.

Another type of abstract is the graphical abstract. A graphical abstract is a visual representation of what is told in the report. Visuals can be very powerful to convey a lot of information in just one picture.


As you have learned by now, a detailed description should be avoided in an abstract or summary. But where a summary can be focused on just one or two highlights from the original report, an abstract should be an accurate description of the article.

What’s the difference between an Abstract and a Summary?

Abstract_Summary - What is the difference between Abstract and Summary

The difference between an abstract vs summary is that an abstract is like a 100% reflection of the contents of the article whereas a summary can highlight certain important aspects of the article.

The method you have used to do your research or to come to your conclusions should also be reflected in an abstract, more so than in a summary.

A summary helps the reader to focus on the important aspects of your article.

Abstract vs Summary: final verdict

When you are writing an article an important question to ask yourself, is should I write an abstract vs summary?

To help you ask this question, answer these questions first:

  • What is the purpose of my abstract vs summary?
  • Do I need to follow specific guidance from stakeholders or for my readers?
  • Or can is the most important object of this abstract/summary to persuade my readers?

Depending on your answers to these questions you need to decide:

  • Do I need to write an abstract?
  • Do I need to write a summary?
  • Do I need to write multiple summaries tied to multiple audiences?

Over to you:

Let me know in the comments below what your personal preference is with regards to abstract vs summary...

as a reader...

and as an author.

  • Do you as a reader prefer to read an abstract more than a summary?
  • Do you as an author prefer to write and develop an abstract more than you would prefer a summary?

Harry Heijligers

About the author

Harry Heijligers has more than 25 years of experience as a Project Manager and more than 17 years of experience as an NLP Trainer. He has a Dutch blog about NLP here: HarryHeijligers.com.
If you'd like to know about the Smart Leadership Hut, please check this: Smart Leadership Hut.

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