Writing an article summary is a common type of assignment students often have to do across their academic career, starting in high school and all the way through college. In other words, if you want to have good grades and get into your professors’ good books, learning how to summarize articles should be among your first priorities. In addition, writing a summary of an article may be useful if you want to understand the author’s primary idea and purpose better. In this guide, we will cover the most important aspects of this work so that you no longer have to gather this information all across the Internet.
If it is the first time you work on an article summary (or if your previous attempts were singularly unsuccessful), reading an article summary example or two may be in order. If possible, do not look for samples online but ask your instructor to give you these examples – this way you will know exactly what s/he expects of you. Read the example carefully, make a note of all the technical details you will have to imitate in your work: its format (especially if you are used to writing in APA, and suddenly have to work with MLA or another formatting style), size, internal structure etc. Although most approaches to summary writing are similar to each other, your instructor may have personal preferences.
The best way to begin is not to read the paper but scan it first to get some idea of its contents, structure and main points. Pay attention to its section headings or subheadings (if it has any) and first sentences of each paragraph (they usually denote the topic of their respective paragraphs). Try to locate the thesis statement, research question, research methods and conclusions. This way you will know what to pay attention to once you start reading. It is especially important if you deal with a huge text that may take long to read multiple times.
Evaluate how much time you have and read the paper carefully, making notes as you proceed. Depending on the type and size of the text, you may want to read it several times. However, it is not always viable – while a newspaper article is unlikely to cause you problems, a book chapter or an article from a scientific journal may take an hour or more to get through. Therefore, you have to get as much information as possible from every reading. Proceed slowly, making sure you understand everything you read. Take note of all the prominent thoughts. If any questions arise as you read, write them down and see if you can find the answers on your subsequent readings. If you have enough time, read the text aloud at least once – it will help you with processing and summarizing the information.
“All this is simply preparation, how do I actually summarize my article?” you are likely to ask. Feel free to start with trying to express the main idea of the text in a single short sentence. Ask yourself, “What statement summarizes the article in its entirety? How do I express the meaning of my article as shortly as possible?” Make sure you use your own words. Do not go on autopilot and simply copy what is said in the article’s own thesis statement. If you are too close to the original in your summary, you may be accused of plagiarizing the text in question.
Now that you have defined the subject matter of the article in general, try doing the same with its individual portions: e.g., sections or paragraphs. Depending on the nature of the text, they can be different – you may have to tell the news covered in the article in your own words or give a laconic synopsis if you deal with a narrative text. Make sure these short summaries are somehow connected to the general topic of the paper.
Now, to writing per se. If you study any journal article summary example, you will see that it starts with the basic information about the text’s author, background, credentials and possibly some information about the circumstances in which the article was written and/or published. Proceed to explain what the article is about and why it is important.
I.e., the thesis you formulated earlier about what you believe to be the main idea of the article. As you will see from any research article summary example, it usually focuses on the author’s original research or individual contribution to the discipline.
The length of a summary depends on the length of the original article. Look through a sample or two and compare it with the original article, and you will see the correlation. For a relatively short article, you may want to limit the summary to about a third of its length (no more than one sentence per point). Longer articles may warrant longer summaries, especially if you have trouble boiling the meaning of an entire paragraph to a single sentence.
Usually major points of an article coincide with individual paragraphs, but it is not necessarily so in the article you work with. Single out the most important aspects of the text and summarize each of them in either a single sentence or several sentences, depending on the size of the summary prescribed by your assignment guidelines. If you find it necessary, mention one or two examples the author used to prove personal ideas for each point covered in the article.
The method the author used to carry out academic research constitutes an important part of what defines the identity of a particular article. What methods you will have to cover depend on the discipline you study: psychology has one set of commonly accepted methods; history has another one and so on. You may need to consult the relevant literature to see what methods you should pay attention to. However, no matter what methods the author uses, you will have to cover more or less the same things: describe the practical application of the method, cover how the author received certain data and pay attention to how s/he measures the results.
Do not forget to mention the results of the author’s research and the conclusions s/he came to. Explain what these conclusions mean, how the author reached them, what the acceptance of these conclusions entails and what potential further research may be based on them.
There are multiple formats used in academia, so make sure you know which one you have to use before you start working. You may think that as long as you write an article summary example, APA or MLA format does not matter much – after all, you can quickly alter your writing to fit another format if necessary. However, many formats have such different approaches to doing the same things that transferring a summary from one to another can take a ridiculous amount of time. Of course, you can find a number of websites hosting a generator of quotations and references in this or that format, but formatting is not limited to this – you will have to change headings, page numbers, margin sizes and many other things. Better make sure you use the right format from the very beginning.
The entire summary should be done in your own words. Avoid using direct quotations from the original article at all costs – you have to show that you read, analyzed and understood the text. If you simply copy/paste parts of it, it will simply mean that you had the article on hand. If you have to repeat a thought mentioned in the article, rephrase it.
Before you submit your summary, take a close look at the assignment guidelines you received from your instructor and make sure you followed them carefully. If you discover that you steered away from your original task, make sure you introduce the necessary corrections before handing the paper in. Be careful: even if your mistake is limited to a mere formality, it can influence your grade.