How to Summarize an Article
An article summary condenses the main point or points of an article in your own words. Summaries should be shorter than the text you're writing about, as they are a synopsis of all the pertinent information included in the article. Readers of your summary should walk away with knowledge of what the article is about without having to read the full article themselves.
Preparing to Summarize
Before you begin writing, skim the article and then read it in depth. To write an effective summary, you must fully understand what the author is asserting. For example, research articles explain the method and results of a scientific experiment, and your article should explain the reason for the research, the hypothesis, the method, results and how those findings were interpreted by the research team. Annotate a copy of the article by writing notes in the margins or highlighting key points. Make notes in your own words, as you do not want to plagiarize.
Writing Main Point Summaries
Most article summaries highlight the main points of a research experiment or case study. In these types of summaries, you must accurately reflect the contents of the original article using your own words but avoiding any personal opinion. Your summary should be objective, and you should paraphrase rather than quoting from the original source. Main point or key point summaries should include the article’s author, source and main assertion. For research articles, main points include the research question, hypothesis, methods, significant results and implications. Write an introductory paragraph that introduces the author and the experiment; use a framing or reporting verb, such as “According to…” or “In his article, John Smith argues that …,” followed by the main idea of the study. Break each main point into its own paragraph.
Abstracts are summaries that include the same information as a main point summary but in a shorter format. They are often added to the beginning of a research article, allowing the reader to decide whether or not the full article is of value to their research. While brief, abstracts need to summarize all essential information from the article. Write abstracts in present tense. In one sentence, state the research question, followed by a sentence that explains the hypothesis. In one to three sentences, explain the procedure, test subjects, materials and what was measured in the experiment. Use one to three sentences to explain the results, and finish with one statement that explains the importance of the findings. Follow a similar format for articles in the humanities, which will include the thesis, background and conclusions of the article.
Making Short Summaries
You might be asked to write a summary of a newspaper or magazine article. These summaries are often limited to one or two sentences. These types of summaries simply convey the main point of the article. Look at the article’s headline, picture and caption to get an idea of what the article is about. Read the article in depth and consider what its central message is, highlight interesting or important details. Pretend you will explain the article to a friend, and consider what things you would stress about the article. Write your one- or two-sentence summary about the article’s main ideas.
- University of Washington: Summarizing a Research Article
- Saint Michael's College: Guidelines for Writing a Summary With in-Text Citations
- Colorado State University: Main Point Summary
- Aims Community College: Summarizing
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Abstracts
- New York Times: Summarizing an Article
Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.