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  • Scribbr: 4 Steps to Summarizing

     There are many situations in which you might have to summarize an article or other source:

    • As a stand-alone assignment to show you’ve understood the material.
    • To keep notes that will help you remember what you’ve read.
    • To give an overview of other researchers’ work in a literature review.

    When you’re writing an academic text like an essay, or research paper you’ll engage with other researchers’ work in a variety of ways. Sometimes you might use a brief quote to support your point; sometimes you might paraphrase a few sentences or paragraphs.

    But it’s often appropriate to summarize a whole article or chapter if it is especially relevant to your own research or to provide an overview of a source before you analyze or critique it.

    The goal of summarizing is to give your reader a clear understanding of the original source. 

    Read the Text

    You should read the article more than once to make sure you’ve thoroughly understood it. It’s often effective to read in three stages:

    1. Scan the article quickly to get a sense of its topic and overall shape.

    2. Read the article carefully, highlighting important points and taking notes as you read.

    3. Skim the article again to confirm you’ve understood the key points, and re-read any particularly important or difficult passages.

    There are some easy tricks you can use to identify the key points as you read:

    • Start by reading the abstract—this already contains the author’s own summary of their work, and it tells you what to expect from the article.
    • Pay attention to headings and subheadings—these should give you a good sense of what each part is about.
    • Read the introduction and the conclusion together and compare them: what did the author set out to do, and what was the outcome?

    Break the Text Down into Sections

    To make the text more manageable and understand its sub-points, break it down into smaller parts.

    If the text is a scientific paper that follows a standard empirical structure, it is probably already organized into clearly marked sections, usually including an introduction, methods, results, and discussion.

    Other types of articles may not be explicitly divided into sections. But most articles and essays will be structured around a series of sub-points or themes.

    Try writing a word or phrase in the margin next to each paragraph that describes the paragraph’s content. Then you can see at a glance what each part of the article focuses on. If several paragraphs cover similar or related topics, you may group them together in sections.

    Identify the Key Points in Each Section

    Now it’s time to go through each part and pick out its most important points. What does your reader need to know to understand the overall argument or conclusion of the article?

    Keep in mind that a summary does not involve paraphrasing every single paragraph of the article. Your goal is to extract the essential points, leaving out anything that can be considered background information or supplementary detail.

    In a scientific article, there are some easy questions you can ask to identify the key points in each part:


    What research question or problem was addressed?

    Are there any hypotheses formulated?


    What type of research was done?

    How was the data collected and analyzed?


    What were the most important findings?

    Were the hypotheses supported?


    What is the overall answer to the research question?

    How does the author explain these results?

    What are the implications of the results?

    Are there any important limitations?

    Are there any key recommendations?

    In this case, pay particular attention to the thesis statement—the central claim that the author wants us to accept, which usually appears in the introduction—and the topic sentences that signal the main idea of each paragraph. 

    If the article takes a different form, you might have to think more carefully about what points are most important for the reader to understand its argument.

    Write the Summary

    Now that you know the key points that the article aims to communicate, you need to put them in your own words.

    To avoid plagiarism and show you’ve understood the article, it’s essential to properly paraphrase the author’s ideas. Do not copy and paste parts of the article, not even just a sentence or two.

    The best way to do this is to put the article aside and write out your own understanding of the author’s key points.

    Check the Summary Against the Article

    Finally, read through the article once more to ensure that:

    • You’ve accurately represented the author’s work
    • You haven’t missed any essential information
    • The phrasing is not too similar to any sentences in the original.

    If you’re summarizing lots of articles as part of your own work, it’s often a good idea to use a plagiarism checker to double-check that your text is completely original and properly cited. Just be sure to use one that’s safe and reliable.

    The information on this page, How to Write a Summary, is credited to Scribbr and published by Shona McCombes.