Posted by: Gillian | February 18, 2010

Essays – abstracts, introductions and backgrounds

Following from my earlier post on essay writing tips, here is an attempt to reduce confusion about what goes in abstracts, introductions and backgrounds. Do, however, check the details given with your course because interpretations can vary.


These often have a maximum word length of 50-100 words.  In higher level writing they are the paragraphs that you can see in online libraries before you decide whether or not you are going to download them.  At all levels they should include the key words from the essay and an indication of the argument you are making.  Do not use the word ‘I’.  A useful, if boring, phrase is, “The paper addresses the…”.  It might address use of a model in a particular company or situation, the state of something, the opposing opinions about X, the theories related to Y – or any one of hundreds of other options.  Abstracts do not usually count towards your essay word or page count.


This is your first real paragraph or section.  In it you need to define the question as you intend to interpret it in the rest of the essay.

First, underline and highlight all the key words in the question.  As an example, let us take the rather lazily written topic: “Discuss appropriate corporate entertainment policies for organisations working in both India and the USA.”
Next, look for the writing-related verbs so you know what you are meant to be doing.  In this case you have the verb ‘discuss’ linked to ‘appropriate’.  In order to work out what is appropriate, you need to look at what else in the sentence needs defining.
You cannot go much further without explaining what you mean by ‘corporate entertainment policies’ – are these for in-company entertainment (staff outings) or for customers or both?  Are they to be the same in India and the US or different?  You decide.
You also need to define organisations: do you mean all organisations working in both countries (probably not, if you wish to finish writing this century)? Narrow the question to a particular sector Say whether it is public or private, for-profit or not-for-profit, roughly what size the organisations are and what industry they are in.  Ensure the organisations are working in both countries.  (A simple point but often overlooked.)
Once you have done this you have the framework for discussing (not just describing) what is appropriate.


These are usually required in management courses when using real-world examples.  They are essential if you are using a local company that may be unknown to your readers and, properly written, they also keep you focused if the company is well-known.  You do not write the company history as it would be found in their museum or on their website.  You select relevant information that sets the context for your main discussion as concisely as possible.  In the case of our example essay, you would need to say how long your case study companies had been working in both countries, where they were based, how funded, the types of corporate entertainment that  historically have been used by them  and any major national legislation that may affect policy-making.

So, three different titles and three different purposes.  Happy writing!


  1. Thank you for this clear and useful explanation – I shall re-visit when writing the next report!
    And will now visit the post on essays.
    Do you have anything for dissertations?!

    • LoL. Glad the info was useful. Will see what I can do for dissertations without writing one of my own!

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