What’s the Difference Between an Abstract, Summary, and Annotation?

With so many different terms related to citations (e.g. MLA format, footnotes, abstract, etc.), it can be difficult to understand how each one could fit into your paper. Let’s take a look at a few of the most commonly confused citation terms, and ways that you can properly use them in your work.

What is an Abstract? When do I use it?

An abstract is a condensed overview of a paper that usually includes the purpose of the paper/research study, the basic design of the study, the major findings, and a brief summary of your interpretations of the conclusions. Abstracts are usually used in social science or scientific papers, and are generally 300 words or less.

What is a Summary? When do I use it?

Like an abstract, a summary is just a condensed write-up on the topic discussed in your paper. However, summaries are more open ended than abstracts, and can contain much more varied information. They can be included in virtually any type of paper, and do not have a specific word count limit. Always check with your instructor for those types of guidelines before handing in your summary and paper.

What is an Annotation? When do I use it?

Annotations, otherwise referred to as annotated bibliographies, are contextual blurbs that are placed underneath the citation that they refer to within the bibliography of a paper. Each annotation is usually about 150 words, and is a descriptive and evaluative paragraph. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of each source cited.

Before including any of these options in your paper, be sure to check with your instructor about their specifications for your assignment. It might also be beneficial to run it through a grammar checker in case there are any errors you may have missed in the abstract, summary, or annotation.

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