How to Write your Introduction, Abstract and Summary

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These are the most important components of your thesis or report.  Put your biggest effort into getting them perfect.  Most professors read the Abstract, Introduction and Conclusions chapters of a thesis first, then they dive into the main body text afterwards.  This means that you have to be particularly careful in wording these sections, since there is some content overlap.  If you just copy and paste text between them, people will notice and it won’t leave them with a very favourable impression.  Many people read technical reports in the same order – in fact, some people actually never read anything but the Abstract, Introduction and Conclusions!  

There are some fairly specific rules related to these thesis (or technical report) components that you must know about. There are also some common sense guidelines that are useful to know – the main one being the advice above not to cut and paste text.  Another is that you write these three thesis/report components last.  Yes, that’s right – you write the Introduction and Abstract last – after you have written the entire report or thesis contents.  (You can be stubborn and write them first if you like; just be prepared to do them twice, because you’ll find they have to be completely rewritten in the end anyway.) 

The fact that these are written last generally means they are often the most poorly written – since most people naturally start to burn out as they approach the end of such a large writing project.  However, keep in mind that these are the sections that will get the most attention and scrutiny – so you absolutely have to make them your best content in the document.  Here’s a general overview of how to write these important sections, presented in the typical order in which they are written.

What goes in your ‘Introduction’?

A good technical report/thesis Introduction does four things:

1.       It introduces the problem and motivation for the study.

  • Tell the reader what the topic of the report is.
  • Explain why this topic is important or relevant.

2.       It provides a brief summary of previous engineering and/or scientific work on the topic.

  • Here you present an overview what is known about the problem.  You would typically cite earlier studies conducted on the same topic and/or at this same site, and in doing so, you should reveal the yawning void in the knowledge that your brilliant research will fill.
  • If you are writing a thesis, you’re going to need a full-blown literature review with very specific details of all of the scientific or engineering work done on the topic to date.  This literature review is usually contained in its own chapter, particularly for PhD theses.  In the introduction, just present a brief overview, sufficient to establish the need for your research.

3.       It outlines the purpose and specific objectives of the project.

  • These are linked to solving the problem or filling the knowledge gap identified above.
  • Often, the specific objectives are listed in point form. Sometimes a numbered list is used.

4.       It provides a ‘road map’ for the rest of the report.

  • This is so that the reader knows what’s coming and sees the logic of your organization.
  • Describe (in approximately one sentence each) the contents of each of the report/thesis chapters.

What doesn’t go in your Introduction?

  • Never put any results or decisions in the Introduction.  Just because you are writing it last doesn’t mean you should give away the story. After all – it’s called the “Introduction” for a reason.😉

What goes in your ‘Conclusions’ chapter?

The purpose of this chapter is to provide a summary of the whole thesis or report.  In this context, it is similar to the Abstract, except that the Abstract puts roughly equal weight on all thesis/report chapters, whereas the Conclusions chapter focuses primarily on the findings, conclusions and/or recommendations of the project.

There are a couple of rules – one rigid, one common sense, for this chapter:

  • All material presented in this chapter must have appeared already in the report; no new material can be introduced in this chapter. (rigid rule of technical writing)
  • Usually, you would not present any new figures or tables in this chapter. (rule of thumb)

Generally, for most technical reports and Masters theses, the Conclusions chapter would be~3 to 5 pages long (double spaced).  It would generally be longer in a large PhD thesis. Typically you would have a paragraph or two for each chapter or major subsection.  Aim to include the following (typical) content.

  • Re-introduce the project and the need for the work – though more briefly than in the intro;
  • Re-iterate the purpose and specific objectives of your project.
  • Re-cap the approach taken – similar to the road map in the intro; however, in this case, you are re-capping the data, methodology and results as you go.
  • Summarize the major findings and recommendations of your work.
  • Make recommendations for future research.

What goes in your ‘Abstract’?

(generally called the Executive Summary in technical reports)

In short, everything goes in the Abstract.  Its purpose is to provide a summary of the whole report or thesis.  In this context, it is similar to the Conclusions chapter, except that the Abstract gives the individual chapters more even weighting and is typically much shorter overall.

There are also a few rules for the Abstract.

  • All material presented in the Abstract must appear in the report body as well; no new material is allowed. (rigid rule of technical writing)
  • Do not present any figures or tables in the Abstract. (rigid rule of technical writing)
  • Do not cite references the Executive Summary. (if you need to, then you are getting too detailed)

Generally, the Abstract would fit on one page (single spaced) with approximately one paragraph for each chapter.  Here is the typical content.

  • Present the project topic and the need for the work.
  • State the specific objectives of the project.
  • Re-cap the approach taken, major decisions and results.
  • Summarize the major conclusions and recommendations of your work.

It’s important to keep in mind that some universities put very stringent length restriction on theses Abstracts, which makes them even harder to write.  If you are faced with this challenge, don’t deal with it by leaving out your results and conclusions.  Everything above must still be covered; but you will have to be extremely brief and articulate.  Generally, you will not be able to get into any details on the methodologies and decisions.

In my next post, I will give some advice on that most dreaded of all chapters – the Literature Review.

91 thoughts on “How to Write your Introduction, Abstract and Summary

    damicy said:
    March 25, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Wow, amazing goods from you! If only the world known your talent. Keep it up. By the way check out my blog. It is leave us your thoughts!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm


        debz said:
        July 10, 2013 at 3:43 am

        Hi Faye I need your help how to write an abstract introduction and summary…can you help me

        Faye Hicks responded:
        July 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm

        Sorry, but I don’t have time to give individual instruction. I hope this article helps a bit! Good luck!

    Muradul Islam said:
    August 24, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Excellent post. Clear explanation of Introduction, Abstract and Conclusion.🙂

      yashi said:
      May 26, 2015 at 10:49 pm

      What should I write in the introduction of my school project?

        Faye Hicks responded:
        May 30, 2015 at 3:27 pm

        That’s difficult to say – this advice is for scientific/engineering reports and theses. Some of the general principles may still apply to your case, but beyond that, I can’t say as I have not dealt with school projects. I suggest you consult with your teacher and ask for some specific advice. Good luck!

    Ilie Ridzuan said:
    October 16, 2013 at 5:36 am

    I found this post is useful.. It is great Faye. Thanks

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 16, 2013 at 6:15 am

      Thanks Ilie! Glad you found it useful!

    Dr. M Z Khan said:
    November 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    A very good article. Thanks

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 6, 2013 at 10:49 am

      Thanks! And thanks too for visiting!

    Confused said:
    December 1, 2013 at 3:57 am

    Where do I put the Abstract? Before Introduction, after introduction, before conclusion or after conclusion?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 1, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      Usually the abstract goes at the beginning of a report or thesis – before the Table of Contents.

    Marcos said:
    January 1, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Thanks for the post! Very clear and direct. It will help me out with my Master writtings!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 2, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks – so glad you found it helpful!

    Ali.isma said:
    January 17, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Plz tell the proper method to write a technical report

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 20, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Hi Ali – please check out the page “Complete List of Posts” and you will see links to the many posts I have written on this topic. If there is something specific you are looking for that you don’t see there, please let me know.

    Ginen said:
    January 31, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    This post is just Fantastic, I Was on the phase of submitting my research work, and Was stuck while i started with introduction and way i was locked, with what to start, how and all sorts of question, obstructed my report for a week, than i made the same conclusion to write later, today when i read your article – I am so Excited ….

    Best luck , keep Sharing your awesome Experience

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 5, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks! So glad you found it useful!

    zaina said:
    February 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

    thanks alot since tommorrow i have an exam about research papers and you helped and gave me exactly the proper information i need mwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 26, 2014 at 8:37 am

      Thanks – glad it was helpful!

    Fawad Ahmed said:
    April 25, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Pls explain what to write in Preface

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 26, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      Hi Fawad – do you mean the preface to a thesis? We don’t have that in our theses – perhaps you should check with your Faculty of Grad Studies for specifications on that.

    DMC said:
    June 11, 2014 at 8:41 am

    This is poor advice…I followed it and got hammered because my Intro and Abstract were way too long!! The Abstract should be no more than a paragraph…ugh I am editing now for a better grade…

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 11, 2014 at 9:52 am

      Sorry to hear that – as I said in the post, some universities have their own very specific rules about these things – particularly abstracts. Also, some professors have their own ideas of what they’d like to see and these don’t always follow the more generally accepted conventions. I’m sorry to hear that is what seems to be the case for you.

    Lydia said:
    July 20, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Dear Faye. In what order would you put the abstract, preface and table of contents?

      Lydia said:
      July 20, 2014 at 9:47 am

      – In the case of a bachelor thesis in engineering.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 28, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      Hi Lydia – sorry for the delay responding. Normally the order of these is prescribed by your university’s guidelines. The abstract normally goes ahead of the table of contents. We don’t require a preface at my university, so I am not sure what would be considered typical.

    dee said:
    August 12, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks, great help and simple to understand. Always a tired brain when you get to this part.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks! Glad you found it useful!

    twambaze said:
    September 9, 2014 at 4:49 am

    Thanks for you good work, but if possible you may include the samples on each subject, it will be very wonderful.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 15, 2014 at 5:58 am

      Thanks – glad you found it useful. I understand why you would like to see examples; however, we are all dealing with vastly different technical specialties, so my examples wouldn’t elucidate much for you. Even an example from one of my students is seldom of use to another of my students. Fortunately, the usual problem is that most students are not aware of the basic guidelines presented here. If you prepare your introduction, abstract, and summary following these basic principles, then you should have a worthwhile product for your own professor to review and comment upon.

    Islamiyat said:
    September 16, 2014 at 6:52 am

    Am relieved when i saw this post ,i hope it will be helpful to me.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 2, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      Hope you find it helps🙂

    Braam Burchardt said:
    October 7, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    Interesting stuff. I lecture a small group from industry on technical writing. May I use some of your stuff?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 12, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      Sure – but please be sure to credit me as the author of any material you use and include my web site in the credit – thanks.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 23, 2014 at 5:13 am

      Sure! Thanks for you interest!
      So sorry for the delay responding – I thought I answered weeks ago but there must have been a glitch.😦

    jhan nian said:
    October 8, 2014 at 3:35 am

    could you give me an example for making an introduc
    tion for mu project

      Faye Hicks responded:
      October 23, 2014 at 5:17 am

      Sorry – but examples are so subject specific that it is not really practical to do that. I think if you want good examples, you should look at other theses or reports on your topic, and check that they have all the elements described in the post above and that they follow the basic rules of technical writing (described in earlier posts). You should also ask your supervisor for examples of good ones.

    Avik said:
    October 29, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Nice 1 it is very helpfull for starting

    Omolola Odetola said:
    November 15, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    wow! this is really useful for all final year students, keep it up!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      December 12, 2014 at 5:14 am

      Thanks Omolola!🙂

    Lukman said:
    December 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Why is background to the study not inclusive in your work?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 28, 2015 at 5:59 am

      Hi Lukman – sorry for the delay responding. I am not quite sure what you are asking. Can you elaborate?

    Salmah Alsulami said:
    February 3, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Reblogged this on Slooma.

    chris said:
    February 22, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    its a nice one! plz in some dept. like mine introduction (chapter one), two, and three are required to be written and proposed b4 going to the field to collect ur data how do i go about my introduction?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 25, 2015 at 9:03 am

      The introduction should always follow the same basic principles – so the info here should still apply. If your school requires a deviation from the standard conventions, then your best bet is to ask your supervisor for the specific content requirements of the introduction chapter. You might also ask if s/he can give you one or two examples to get an idea of what has been done (and accepted) in the past. Good luck!

    kosidichi said:
    March 3, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Hi Faye, thank you for this. I tried matching your instructions with a couple of introductions to some great thesis works and noticed they were all in line with your instructions. That makes it a lot easier to understand and apply to my own works now.
    I just have one question, from where you mentioned “Just because you are writing it last doesn’t mean…” Does it mean introductions are written last just like abstracts, and if so can you please explain why? I’ve been doing the other way round – introducing first.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      March 4, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Hi there – generally it is easier to write the introduction last as the content in the body of the thesis sometimes changes as you get into it, making the introduction (if written first) a bit outdated. However, as long as you go back and revise the introduction if/as needed, after writing the rest of the thesis, it shouldn’t matter what order you do it in. One advantage of writing (at least a draft of) the introduction first, is that you can set out your objectives clearly and keep the rest of the writing more focused.
      Thanks for visiting my blog!🙂

    Robert Letton said:
    April 11, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    My dissertation is regarding a spherical coordinate approach for digitally representing objects and I am writing a rough draft of the abstract, intro, synopsis, summary, conclusions, etc. as a road map to the main body and I have iterated these many times and know that I will do a meticulous rewrite at the end. This is somewhat due the nature of mathematics (note that I am boning up on quaternions, rotation sequences, etc.) but this also lets me hone each of these. Of course I plan to do something with my final product besides submit it for my doctoral thesis. I did several papers for my Master’s degree and found these little write ups on how to abstracts etc. very helpful.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 12, 2015 at 2:21 am

      Thanks for the comments – so glad you found these posts useful!

    Tia said:
    April 23, 2015 at 10:59 am

    This will help me write my final paper and hope I get a good grade with your guidelines.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      May 7, 2015 at 1:52 am

      Good luck! Thanks for visiting my site!

    Alma Fazliu said:
    May 30, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    in what order you write abstract and introduction? which comes first?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      May 31, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      I suggest you write the abstract last as it has to encapsulate the whole report (intro, body, and summary) and that’s easier to do once all those parts are all written.

    ayesha asghar said:
    June 9, 2015 at 9:05 am

    need information for citation

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 9, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Please see the list of posts – there is one on citations.

    shriharshagk said:
    June 22, 2015 at 2:32 am

    Its very well explained and helpful.

    I have a question,

    I am preparing a report for my Internship. I would like to know is it good to add Abstract and Preface both in the report? or Just one of it is okay.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 23, 2015 at 3:07 am

      I am not sure as it would depend upon what the report specifications are – do they provide a guide? A Preface is not typical in my field (engineering) but your field may be different. Perhaps check with your supervisor if there is no guide.

    Angela Morris said:
    July 9, 2015 at 4:24 am

    Thank you for an excellent article Faye. Clarity reigns! I am now following you on twitter!

      Faye Hicks responded:
      July 13, 2015 at 2:41 am

      Thanks Angela – so glad you found it useful!🙂

    Maheer Ali said:
    August 15, 2015 at 7:27 am

    My topic of thesis is
    A comparative study of knowledge, attitude and practices among nutrition and non nutrition female students towards balanced diet how will I write it’s introduction in synopsis 😔

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 20, 2015 at 5:19 am

      Hi there Maheer – sorry, I don’t really understand what you’re asking. Please keep in mind that my area of specialization is totally different than yours, so I can’t really help you with specifics about your topic.

    Harun Trikha said:
    August 20, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Hey Faye, a neat little piece on the technicalities of Report writing. I found your article and guidelines to be instructional and useful. Thank you!

    (I would greatly appreciate if you could take out the time to go through my blog: )

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 20, 2015 at 5:21 am

      Thanks – I’ll do that! Best wishes!

    Naj said:
    October 20, 2015 at 4:35 am

    Hej Faye,
    I have to compaire two novels but i dont know how start or the main point to write in introduction part. Please advise😊

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 1, 2015 at 5:08 am

      Sorry – I’m not sure as my experience is with technical writing. It’s best to go to your instructor for some specific advice. Good luck!

    Jeffery said:
    November 20, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Hello Faye,what are the basics for writing an introduction for an engineering work and also brief me on the Abstract and how lengthy the introduction should be.thank you.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      November 24, 2015 at 7:27 am

      Hi Jeffrey – the basics for writing the introduction and abstract are provided in the post above – was there something specific you didn’t find?
      In terms of length – the Abstract (or Executive Summary, as it is sometimes called) is usually no more than a page, slightly shorter for small engineering reports, and occasionally multiple pages for massive, complex engineering reports. Similarly, the introduction length depends upon the length and complexity of the report. It is usually at least a couple of pages, and is sometimes a dozen or more pages in a large, very complex engineering report.

    begarly said:
    January 4, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    how do u write a procedure

      Faye Hicks responded:
      January 27, 2016 at 9:59 am

      Sorry – I don’t really know what you are referring to. Can you be more specific?

    Dongo Sydney said:
    February 2, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I appreciate this gave me a good back up to venture into project introduction

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 4, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks! Glad you found it useful!🙂

    joe said:
    February 3, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Looking for this information for a research class….. “What are the four ways to show the need for undertaking a study?” Kinda lost on this one.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      February 4, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      Sorry – not sure of the context. Your best bet is to seek clarification from the instructor. Good luck!

    elikt said:
    March 13, 2016 at 4:46 am

    Very resourceful content. A lot if thanks!

    jocelyn johnson said:
    March 17, 2016 at 3:27 am

    awesome, really detailed and easy to comprehend.

    Lina said:
    June 16, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    How long should be the introduction?

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 17, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      That is always difficult to say – it depends on the type of thesis. For a paper thesis (compendium of published papers) the intro often contains the literature review and might therefore

      Faye Hicks responded:
      June 17, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      Sorry – didn’t get to finish my reply… Accidentally hit the send button too soon. 😀

      For a standard report or thesis – about 10% of the total length is a rough rule of thumb for the length of the intro. For a paper thesis – if the intro contains a lit review – it would typically be longer. Hope that helps…

    Josephine said:
    August 20, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Hey Faye, I found this piece useful. I’m currently writing my master thesis. Thanks.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      September 27, 2016 at 8:03 am

      Hi Josephine – sorry for the delay replying. I’m so glad you found this useful. Thnaks for visiting my blog!🙂

    Josephine said:
    August 20, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Hey Faye,I found this piece useful. I am currently writing my master thesis.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 22, 2016 at 9:58 am

      Thanks Josephine – I’m so glad you found it useful!

    Mikah said:
    August 30, 2016 at 6:16 am

    Great article. Touched very pertinent issues and addressed my individual problems.

      Faye Hicks responded:
      August 30, 2016 at 5:38 pm

      Thanks Mikah – I’m so glad you found it useful!

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