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How to summarize an essay or article

how to summarize an essay or article

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A journal article summary provides potential readers with a short descriptive commentary, giving them some insight into the article's focus. Writing and summarizing a journal article is a common task for college students and research assistants alike. With a little practice, you can learn to read the article effectively with an eye for summary, plan a successful summary, and write it to completion.


Part 1 Reading the Article

  1. 1

    Read the abstract. Abstracts are short paragraphs written by the author to summarize research articles. Abstracts are usually included in most academic journals and are generally no more than 100-200 words. The abstract provides a short summary of the content of the journal article, providing you with important highlights of the research study.
    • The purpose of an abstract is to allow researchers to quickly scan a journal and see if specific research articles are applicable to the work they are doing.
  • Remember that an abstract and an article summary are two different things, so an article summary that looks just like the abstract is a poor summary.[1] An abstract is highly condensed and cannot provide the same level of detail regarding the research and its conclusions that a summary can.[2]
  • 2

    Understand the context of the research. Make sure you know what specifically the authors will be discussing or analyzing, why the research or the topic matters, whether or not the article is written in response to another article on the topic, etc. By doing this, you'll learn what arguments, quotes, and data to pick out and analyze in your summary.

  • 3

    Skip to the conclusion. Skip ahead to the conclusion and find out where the proposed research ends up to learn more about the topic and to understand where the complicated outlines and arguments will be leading.
  • If you're collecting research, you may not need to digest another source that backs up your own if you're looking for some dissenting opinions.
  • 4

    Identify the main argument or position of the article. To avoid having to read through the whole thing twice to remind yourself of the main idea, make sure you get it right the first time. Take notes as you read and highlight or underline main ideas.
    • Pay special attention to the beginning paragraph or two of the article. This is where the author will most likely lay out their thesis for the entire article. Figure out what the thesis is and determine the main argument or idea that the author or authors are trying to prove with the research.
      • Look for words like hypothesis, results, typically, generally, or clearly to give you hints about which sentence is the thesis.
    • Underline, highlight, or rewrite the main argument of the research in the margins.
  • Maybe, but probably not. It's usually not essential to read research articles word-for-word, as long as you're picking out the main idea, and why the content is there in the first place.
  • 6

    Take notes while you read. Efficiency is key when you're doing research and collecting information from academic journals. Read actively as you comb through the material. Circle or highlight each individual portion of the journal article, focusing on the sub-section titles.[3]
    • These segments will usually include an introduction, methodology, research results, and a conclusion in addition to a listing of references.
  • Part 2 Planning a Draft

    1. 1

      Write down a brief description of the research. In a quick free write, describe the academic journey of the article, listing the steps taken from starting point to concluding results, describing methodology and the form of the study undertaken.
    These will help you discover the main points necessary to summarize.
  • 2

    Decide what aspects of the article are most important. You might refer to these as the main supporting ideas, or sections, of the article. While these may be marked clearly with subheadings, they may require more work to uncover. Anything that's a major point used to support the main argument of the author needs to be present in the summary.
    • Depending on the research, you may want to describe the theoretical background of the research, or the assumptions of the researchers. In scientific writing, it's important to clearly summarize the hypotheses the researchers outlined before undertaking the research, as well as the procedures used in following through with the project. Summarize briefly any statistical results and include a rudimentary interpretation of the data for your summary.
    • In humanities articles, it's usually good to summarize the fundamental assumptions and the school of thought from which the author comes, as well as the examples and the ideas presented throughout the article.
  • It's important that you fully examine the meanings of these more complicated terms so that your summary reader can grasp the content as you move forward with the summary.
    • Any words or terms that the author coins need to be included and discussed in your summary.
  • 4

    Aim to keep it brief. Journal summaries don't need to be anywhere close to the length of the articles themselves. The purpose of the summary is to provide a condensed but separate description of the research, either for use for the primary research collector, or to help you redigest the information at a later date in the research process.
    • As a general rule of thumb, you can probably make one paragraph per main point, ending up with no more than 500-1000 words, for most academic articles. For most journal summaries, you'll be writing several short paragraphs that summarize each separate portion of the journal article.
  • Toward the beginning of the article, possibly in the introduction, the authors should discuss the focus of the research study and what the targeted objectives were for conducting the research. This is where your summary should begin. Describe, in your own words, the main argument the authors hope to prove with their research.
    • In scientific articles, usually there is an introduction which establishes the background for the experiment or study, and won't provide you with much to summarize. It will be followed by the development of a research question and testing procedures, though, which are key in dictating the content for the rest of the article.
  • 2

    Discuss the methodology used by the authors. This portion discusses the research tools and methods used during the study.[4] In other words, you need to summarize how the authors or researchers came to the conclusions they came to with first-hand research or data collection.
  • The results of the study will usually be processed data, sometimes accompanied by raw, pre-process data. Only the processed data needs to be included in the summary.
  • 3

    Describe the results. One of the most important parts of the summary needs to be describing what the authors accomplished as a result of their work.[5] Were the authors successful and did they meet their objectives for conducting the research? What conclusions have the authors drawn from this research? What are the implications of this research, as described in the article?
    • Make sure your summary covers the research question, the conclusions/results, and how those results were achieved. These are crucial parts of the article and cannot be left out.
  • 4

    Connect the main ideas presented in the article. For some summaries, it's important to show how the relationships among the ideas presented by the authors develop over the course of the article.
  • Fill in the blanks and assumptions, helping to clarify the research and summarize it briefly.
    • This is sometimes more important in summaries dealing with articles in the humanities. For example, it might be helpful to unpack dense arguments about poet George Herbert's relationship to the divine with more pedestrian summaries: "The author seeks to humanize Herbert by discussing his daily routines, as opposed to his philosophies."
  • 5

    Don't draw your own conclusions. A summary of an article shouldn't editorialize, or offer your own interpretations of the data, unless explicitly stated as part of the assignment. In general, the point of a summary is to summarize the authors' points, not to offer your own additions and editorials.
    • This can be difficult for some inexperienced research writers to get the hang of at first, but remember to keep the "I" out of it.
  • 6

    Refrain from using direct quotations of text from the journal article.

  • Focus more on paraphrasing the ideas when writing a journal article summary without losing focus of their meaning and intended content.
  • 7

    Use present tense. Always use the present tense when you are discussing the contents of a scholarly article.[6] This will help you maintain a parallel grammatical structure throughout.
  • 8

    Revise your draft. Good writing happens in revision. Go back and compare the focus and content of what you have written to see that it matches and supports the context of the journal article. A journal article that has been properly summarized provides potential readers with a short review, which is important when they are browsing and searching for specific information about a particular topic.
  • Sample Summaries

    Community Q&A

    Add New Question
    • When summarizing, should I be objective, or follow what the author says?

  • Is there any limit for summary? If 20-30 articles are reviewed, then how can I sum them up?

    wikiHow Contributor

    Summarize a different article in each paragraph, and try to make each summary smaller if possible. Then, find a way to mash up all the summaries in one. There is no limit but the shorter the entire summary is, the better.

  • Step 6 says to take notes while I read. Is it a good idea to take notes while scanning or should I just take notes after?

    Daniela Alvarez

    Take notes while scanning to remember what interested you the most. Afterwards, go back, if the article will be used, to understand those topics better so that if you had to explain it to someone, you could without a problem.

  • How do I summarize a referee journal article?

    wikiHow Contributor

    A "refereed" journal article is the same as a peer-reviewed journal article.

  • Before sitting down to read the entire article, scan the article and highlight or underline the major points.
    • Write down or highlight the question asked or purpose of the article.
    • Take note of the thesis statement or hypothesis.
    • Highlight any supporting points.
    • Write or highlight the method used to perform the research, if included in the article.
    • Mark down findings, conclusions, or results.
  • 2

    Read the article thoroughly. After marking down the basics, read the article sincerely, paying close attention to detail.
    • Consider reading each section a few times for an even richer understanding.
    • Ask yourself about the article as you read it. Mentally track the progress of the article to determine if the results and conclusions drawn seem complete and sensible.
  • 3

    Take notes in your own words. As you read the article for thoroughness, write down any significant facts or interesting details in your own words.
  • Do not simply "rephrase" exact statements by swapping a few words around. Instead, completely rewrite the information and do not look at the text as you write.
  • If you have difficulty keeping things in your own words, focus on writing down short phrases instead of full sentences.
  • 4

    Summarize each section. At the end of each major train of thought, pause to summarize the main point of the section in a single sentence.[1]
    • If the article unexpectedly begins to move into another main point, stop long enough to write the main point of the previous section before you continue reading.
  • Part 2 Essential Summarizing Techniques

    1. 1

      Understand the purpose of your summary. A summary meant for your own personal notes should be approached from a different perspective than a summary you plan to include in your essay.
      • If writing a summary for your own benefit, include as much detail as possible so that you can get the most out of your notes later on.
  • 2

    Introduce the bibliographic information. In the introduction of your summary, mention the full title of the article and the author's full name.
    • You do not need to mention the date of publication or the journal, book, newspaper, or magazine you found the article in. This information will need to be included on your "References" or "Works Cited" page, however.
    • Only include publication dates and sources if they are applicable to your paper. For instance, if one author wrote an article making one claim but wrote a second article refuting his earlier claims several years later, mention that one article came several years after the other.
  • 3

    Include the topic and thesis in the introduction, as well. Within the first paragraph of your summary, you should also mention the topic of the original article and the author's thesis or hypothesis.
    • Make the connection between the article and your essay apparent. For example, if your essay is about a certain health condition and you summarize an article about a certain medication used to treat that condition, make sure that the reader knows that the medication in question is connected to the condition your paper is about.
    • Mention all main points and any supporting details that are essential in understanding those points.
    • Only write information that is absolutely crucial in developing an understanding of the article's contents.
  • 5

    State the conclusions. In your summary's conclusion, restate the conclusion drawn by the author of the original article.
    • Note that these conclusions can include results, analysis of research or ideas, and calls to action.
  • 6

    Use author tags as you write. As you write your summary, continually restate the fact that the information you write comes from another source.
    • For example, include phrases like "Smith believes," "Smith finds that," and "Smith expresses disbelief about."
  • 7

    Avoid direct quotations. A summary should be written in your own words. As a result, you should use direct quotations only when the information cannot be meaningfully rephrased in any other way.
  • The summary should be short, complete, true, and unbiased.
    • The text of your summary should be at least one-quarter the length of the original article, if not shorter. Refer to the parameters of your assignment for further guidelines.
    • The summary must include all of the major ideas included in the article without repeating exact phrases.
    • The summary should accurately portray the thoughts and assertions portrayed in the original article.
    • The summary should not include your own analysis or opinion of the original article. If you do decide to analyze the article's findings, do so in another part of your essay.

    Part 3 Summarizing Scientific or Research Articles

    1. 1

      State the purpose of the experiment or research study. This is, in essence, the "topic" of the article. Explain what the research was about and why the researcher felt inclined to research it.
      • Indicate if or how the researcher's purpose meshes with the purpose of your own essay as you introduce the article.
  • 2

    Explain the researcher's hypothesis. In the introduction of your summary, mention what the researcher expected to find by the end of his or her research.
    • Do not hint around about whether the hypothesis was correct.
  • 3

    Describe the method used to find the results.[3] In order to lend further credibility to the research article in question, you need to describe how the experiment was set up in clear, simple terms.
    • Mention who the subjects were.
    • Describe the design of the experiment. This includes the timeline for the experiment, how subjects were split up, and what distinguished the experimental group from the control group.
    • Also describe the tasks or actions subjects needed to take during the duration of the experiment.
  • 4

    Mention the results. After describing the method used, state what the results of the experiment were.
  • State what the researcher concluded based on his or her own results.
    • Do not include your own analysis in the summary. If you do analyze the results, do so in another portion of your paper.

    Part 4 Summarizing Argumentative or Theoretical Articles

    1. 1

      Identify the author's thesis. In your introduction, restate the thesis of the original article in your own words.
      • The thesis should be a single sentence that sums up the idea or belief the original author is attempting to make.
      • You can also provide brief context about how this thesis fits in with the topic as a whole or a brief summary about the topic in general, but this is not necessary if you already described the general topic in the introduction of your overall essay.
    2. 2

      State each of the author's main points. Explain each of the main points found in the article and include enough supporting detail to make sense of these points.
  • Focus on summarizing the biggest points and those that connect directly to your own essay. If a point has nothing to do with your own essay, you might be able to skip it completely as long as the author's thesis is not completely dependent on that point.
  • 3

    Identify counterarguments the author uses to refute other arguments. Since argumentative articles are often arguing against another viewpoint, you should mention any evidence or ideas the article uses in an attempt to address opposing arguments.
    • If the article does not address any specific counterarguments, however, do not speculate about counterarguments the article could work against while writing your summary. If you wish to speculate on such information, wait until the summary is complete.
  • 4

    State the author's conclusions. Usually, this will mean restating the thesis in new terms.
    • Do not draw your own conclusions in the summary. Only state the conclusions or ideas of the article's author.
  • Comments

    1. Hobosidozose


    2. Decisocateh

      PLEASE don"t reveal what"s happening ( or not ) in Trump"s head! Summarize it for us, kindly.

    3. Xuxewolim

      You must be knowing means ( v. ) to summarize or repeat in concise form

    4. Xozewofi

      I"m basically consumed with work right now. Can you summarize or point me to a good summary?

    5. Nihekat

      I think FDA has an option to convene or not for nme’s with caveat that if they don’t, they have to summarize why not in the action letter.

    6. Kalofujud

      How can you summarize you or in a single tweet?

    7. Logalevecinigu

      Since I"ll be leaving for Italy tomorrow and it being unlikely I"ll have internet or time to live tweet, think I"ll just summarize.

    8. Quxuhorufewek

      I"ve been asleep for six hours. Someone please summarize the three or more hair-raising things that must have happened during that time.

    9. Lonogofimeqo

      So do you agree with LoPing"s position or were you simply making an analogy to summarize LP"s position?

    10. Luziqaqigica

      Or at the very least try to cover up how much of an edgelord / desperate person I am rn. Pathetic doest even summarize what a miserable shit

    11. Tilemepu

      To kind of summarize it before my review, it basically the best parts of Prometheus/Alien/Aliens, with 1 or 2 bad logic moments.

    12. Norebomoqesaju

      Someone summarize the Kulbhushan Yadav saga for me pls. In 140 characters or less.

    13. Lubimuwuco

      To briefly summarize it. It"s women who act satisfied with the bare minimum or even lower from men, in hopes to be praised by find a man.

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