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How to Summarize an Article?

Summarizing

When you think about it, we really summarize all the time in our daily life. You watch a movie and try to summarize it to your friend without spoilers; your friend misses the class and then you summarize the main points of the lesson to them. And at some point in your academic career, you will have to write a summary. If you are reading this article, the time has come.

Ways to Write a Perfect Summary

There are three main ways to use information sources in article writing. Briefly, those three techniques are quoting or using the exact words from the source, paraphrasing, where certain facts or details of a source are given in your own words, and finally – summarizing, which involves putting the main points of the article into your own words.

The purpose of summarizing is to inspire potential readers to invest time in reading the entire article. To understand its concept, let’s appeal to a metaphor. Writing a summary is really like using flavor cubes. You take all the ingredients out of the soup and boil them down into one of the intense little flavor cubes that you do not want to eat on its own. Let’s look at how exactly to do it. Here are three tips on how to summarize an article.

Summarizing Has to Be Clear

Article

Firstly, you do not want to start each summary with something like “this article contains this and that.” These are wasted words that won’t get you any closer to reeling in the reader. It is important to remember that a summary needs to be clear to someone who has not read, seen or heard the original material. You need to include all the essential information that a person should understand without being familiar with the original source. You must include all the main points. So, you could ask, how do you summarize an article, after all? Let’s start with something simpler.

Yesterday I watched “The Revenant.” Let me try to summarize you the main idea.

The Revenant is an Oscar-winning film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. In the movie, Hugh Glass is badly hurt in a bear attack and is left to die in the wilderness.

Do not worry, no spoilers. So, this is the summary of the entire movie in two sentences. I avoid the boring beginning by including “a hook.” But there is a problem that has to do with the summary rules. Who is Hugh Glass? I have not thought about the fact that you have not seen the film yet. Let’s try to fix it and include more details.  

The Revenant is an Oscar-winning film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. In the movie, the hunter and the explorer, Hugh Glass, played by DiCaprio, is badly hurt in a bear attack and is left to die in the wilderness.

Now, you know the answer to the main questions – who, where and what. It is really the best tip on how to properly summarize an article.

Work Backwards and Answer Why-Question

Write your entire article first and then use your concluding paragraph as a guide to what you should put in the summary. This is a great strategy, especially if you sometimes change the direction of an article while you are writing.

Try to summarize the text answering the Why-question, not the How. Let the readers know why the material you present is important. Convince them that in your article they will get quality, original information.

Avoid spilling everything in the summary. Do not put all the information from your article because that decreases the likelihood that people actually will read it. You want it to be as brief as possible. There is no need to include specific details, dates, numbers, statistics. Keep your tips and strategies out of your summary, so that readers feel compelled to read the article.

Paraphrasing

One of the major skills for getting an A+ for your article summarizing is the ability to paraphrase, use your own words instead of direct quotes. It is also my main tip on how to summarize an article without plagiarizing. There are two main ways to paraphrase.

Let’s say there is a sentence we need to rewrite. “The student was unable to express the author’s main point, despite having read the article several times.” A sensitive subject, isn’t it? Let’s look at how we can paraphrase.

Change Individual Words

There are lots of content words in the sentence that you can change. “Unable to express,” “author,” “point” would be easy to alter. But be careful when you are choosing the synonyms. Do not use a thesaurus or a translator. Use words you are already familiar with.

“The student was incapable of expressing the writer’s main idea, despite having read the article several times.” This is a weak paraphrase, and it is not all you need to do. We have the same participle clause. You do not want to change every single word, just replace the order of the sentences.

“Despite having read the article several times, the student was incapable of expressing the writer’s main idea”. Not bad. But it could be better. Let’s take one more step to get a strong paraphrase.

Change Grammatical Form

You can take a verb and make it into a noun, take a clause and turn it into a phrase or vice versa. You can go from active voice to passive and vice versa. Now I am going to take the first part of the paraphrased sentence and make it a phrase.

“Even after multiple readings, the student was incapable of expressing the writer’s main idea.”

“Though the student had re-read the article multiple times, he was incapable of expressing the writer’s main idea”.

Here are some more examples for you to understand the idea of paraphrasing.

The original sentence. A part-time job is beneficial for teenagers because it can teach them the importance of being on time.

Paraphrasing. For teenagers, the importance of time management can be taught through a part-time job. A part-time employment is a good way to teach teenagers punctuality.

The original sentence. Although the dangers of the drug use are clear, its popularity continues to rise among teens.

Paraphrasing. The use of drugs among teenagers continues to increase despite the obvious risk.

How to Structure Your Summarizing?

Notes

Your goal is to tell a story, not to provide an item-by-item list of everything in the article. Tell a story that, when all is said and done, has the beginning, the body and the end. The best way to summarize an article properly is to think about what would happen if you were just describing this article to a friend. Here is an overall goal, here is what the researchers did, how they did it, what they found and why we should care.

You do not have to answer those questions in the exact order that I provided. Sometimes you might start with the conclusions and then go back and explain how you got there. Or it might be that you do not even mention the hypothesis until the very end of your summary. There are a lot of different ways to deliver the information, and it is not always possible to find the best way. But the key is to have a coherent narrative.

A good summary should follow and maintain a good paragraph structure. So, you want a topic sentence, a supporting sentence and a concluding sentence. A topic sentence must itself be a summary. So, you should include the title, the author or the speaker of the original material. It can start like this.

In her article “The legacy of the religion,” Jessica Williams argues that Christian artworks have polytheistic background.

After the introduction, include a body section. In that part it is important to be objective. It means you should not include your opinion there – you are just reporting the information from someone else’s writing. Show me the main ideas from the reading. Try to follow the same order in which the information is presented in the original text. 

Often students ask how to summarize and critique an article? No way. Summary is not about critique, it is about restating.

Let me give you a brief guide. Here are steps to follow in order to summarize anything.

Read It

Carefully read the text until you understand it. There is probably no need to read the entire article in depth, but you do need to understand the thesis of the research being described, who the participants were, what research method was used and the findings that were reached in the article.

Highlight It

The next step is to highlight or make notes of what you feel are the most important aspects of the text.

Overview It

Then write an overview of the paper as clearly and concisely as you can. Try to form a brief outline of the article. It should be short, as in two-three carefully worded sentences (main points, key details and phrases will work).

Draft It

Write a draft summary. Try to use only your outline. If you look at the text, you are going to end up copying many exact phrases from the original source.

Edit It

Lastly, always include in-text citations for the paper as well as the reference list at the end of it.

How long should your summarizing be? The length of your paper depends on the material as well as how long it takes to read the original source. It also depends on the assignment or the instructor. If you are not sure, always ask your teacher. There are not any hard-and-fast rules about using two, three or twenty sentences in the summary. It is strictly the matter of personal preference and of what you believe sounds best in the context of your paper.

How to Summarize a Research Article?

Research Article

If you want to write a research article summary, it will require a slightly different approach.

Describing Participants

One of the things that is often challenging in a research article summary is describing participants. This is because the authors will give you a lot of details about them. For example, let’s say you need to summarize an article about students’ strikes in the 60s’. You will have a lot of information about what courses the students took, where the school was, in what year, how many were men or women, specific information about the racial and ethnic breakdown. But the point is, not all of this is important for you to summarize. It would be important to know that the participants were college students, where the events took place and what the reasons of the strike were.

I would tell how many students participated in this event and give a rough estimate regarding their age as well as whether it was their conscious choice or not. There is no need to include too many details and statistics.

Key Variables

The second thing you have to look at in your summary is key variables. You should not just say “The key variables were X, Y, Z.” If you have done your summarizing properly, they all are just going to come up naturally in your paper without you having to explicitly list them.

When it comes to describing research methods, the only thing you should do is to explain how the study was set up. Ask yourself – how did the researchers get their data?

Combination of the Information

The catch here is to combine pieces of information. One trick that you can use is to take multiple pieces of information and combine them into one sentence. Look at the example.

As expected, the researchers surveyed 100 cases and found a positive correlation between alcohol consumption and a risky sexual behavior. In one sentence, I state the thesis, the results, who the participants were as well as two of the key variables.

Just because this information might be scattered throughout the article does not mean you can’t put it together when you are summarizing.

Results of Summarizing

In terms of results, the readers want more words than numbers. Tell me that group A scored higher than group B. Do not say “Group A scored 73 points and Group B.” Do not give the readers information they will have to process one more time while reading the article. It is their assignment. How would you feel if you had to go to the supermarket to get sliced bacon, but you were forced to buy the whole pig?

So much information, but where do I start? Try to summarize this article.  

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