How to Summarize an Article for College

By Sampson Quain
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College lecturers and instructors often give students summary assignments that require them to read a scholarly article and then provide a concise summary of the material. Unlike an analysis, which requires students to break down an article by examining theme, purpose and style, a summary restates the main points of an article in a student's own words. Think of it this way: after you watch a film and a friend asks you to tell him about it, your description of the film -- which recounts the key plot elements -- is an exercise that is similar to how you would summarize an article.

Read the article several times. Take notes of the major points of the article as you read. Write down major points or concepts from the article. For example, in an article about the causes of poverty, you might write, "Lack of access to education" and "Cyclical factors." Ensure that the notes are written in your own words. Do not copy phrases or sentences verbatim from the article.

Break down your notes into an organizational structure that tracks along with the article's own structure. For example, many scholarly articles -- especially research studies -- are organized by introduction, method, results and discussion. Regular articles also follow a similar structure in that they include an introduction followed by several main points and a conclusion. Make notes on each section of the article to help structure your summary in a logical progression.

Write the summary without looking at the article. Begin by describing what you believe is the main point the author is trying to convey. Write that in your own words. Follow the structure of your notes and summarize each section of the article, using your own language. Do not try to interpret or analyze the article. Your goal is to provide information to anyone who did not read the article but is curious as to its contents.

Describe any methods or concepts that the article used that may not be familiar to readers not involved in the field of study that the article covered. For example, if you are summarizing an article about phone technology and the reader uses the word "3G technology," briefly explain the nature of this technology in the context of the article. Restate the article's conclusions. This step is especially important in research articles that test a hypothesis.

Review the summary for spelling and grammar errors and ensure that you have used your own words throughout the summary. Read the summary to a friend or classmate and ask her if she understands what you have written. Test your summary for plagiarism by reviewing the article and ensuring that you have not lifted any sentences verbatim.

About the Author

Sampson Quain is a screenwriter and filmmaker who began writing in 1996. He has sold feature and television scripts to a variety of studios and networks including Columbia, HBO, NBC, Paramount and Lionsgate. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.