The Difference Between White Paper Abstracts and Summaries

Updated: March 08, 2011

From my experience, an abstract is concentrated information gleaned from a white paper that is used on an external source.

Examples of an abstract would be:

  • A brief overview of white paper placed on a landing page
  • An online article, blog post, or third party reference describing what is in the white paper
  • An online document library with a brief description of the white paper and why you should download and read it

In each example (and several others) the abstract appears outside of the actual framework of the white paper document.

In comparison, a summary is where concentrated information gleaned from a white paper that is used internally within the referenced white paper.

Examples of a white paper summary would be:

  • An executive summary at the beginning of a white paper
  • A concluding summary at the end of a white paper
  • The end of a case study summarizing key benefits gained from the implementation of the solution

In each example the summary appears inside of the actual framework of the white paper document.

The problem occurs when the two terms are used in the place of each other. When the label "abstract" is used instead of a "summary" and vice-versa, reader confusion is sure to follow.

Now I'm sure the world isn't going to end if you happen to label your executive summary as an abstract, but if you produce several white papers as part of your business marketing plan, consistency becomes an important element that retains reader interest and keeps them coming back for more.

With that said, most business readers are used to the term "summary" to reference a concentrated information section of a white paper.

So why swim against the tide and risk greater reader confusion?

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