Academic Writing Tips on How To Summarize a Journal Article

Academic Writing Tips on How To Summarize a Journal Article
Just how valuable knowing how to summarize a journal article truly is becomes clear when the wide variety of reasons for which academic and scientific articles are summarized is understood. A researcher might, for instance, summarize the papers consulted for a new project, making the later use of sources more efficient, or a research assistant may prepare article summaries for a mentor or principal investigator. Peer reviewers summarize article manuscripts to make the job of reviewing them more efficient and to clarify for journal proofreaders the meaning and implications of submitted papers. Authors reporting their original research summarize important journal articles for the literature review sections of their publications, and those who write review articles use summaries of key studies to inform readers about the current body of knowledge on a topic. Like their senior colleagues, university students write summaries of journal articles for research purposes, but summaries of research articles are also assigned in college courses to introduce students to the writing conventions of a discipline while honing their abilities to read critically and communicate effectively in formal text. Learning how to summarize a journal article clearly, thoroughly and succinctly can therefore benefit a researcher’s education as well as his or her career.

The process of summarizing a journal article should begin with careful critical reading, but unless the summary is intended for your eyes only, the first text to receive this close attention should be the instructions or guidelines for the summary. If, for instance, you are summarizing a journal article as a course assignment, you will need to follow the instructions provided by your professor and meet his or her expectations for length, content, organization and formatting, and the same would be the case if you were reading an article for the principal investigator of a project and summarizing it for his or her use. If, on the other hand, your summary of an article will ultimately appear in another journal article, you will need to consult the journal guidelines to ensure that you write the kind of summary the journal publishes. Specific requirements must always be accommodated, but, as a general rule, keeping the text clear, brief and informative is an effective approach to how to summarize a journal article. It is therefore essential to select the author’s most important ideas, results and conclusions, and then write your summary about them in a straightforward style that is as concise as possible.
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Once you understand exactly what sort of summary you need to write, the time you spend reading and thinking about the article will prove more productive because you will know what sort of information you are looking for and how to deal with it. Attending to hypotheses, thesis statements, research questions, objectives or any other means the author uses to express the main idea or primary purpose behind the research is always imperative. Taking notes about the approaches or methods used by the author, the results obtained and the interpretations offered are standard, and both the implications and the limitations presented in the article should be noted as well. Any topics or issues highlighted as necessary in the guidelines you are following should obviously be prioritized as you read, but if you are feeling uncertain about how to proceed, the structure of the journal article can be immensely helpful. Try to identify the central point the author is making in each section of the paper and also in each paragraph within the separate sections. In every instance ask yourself why that chunk of text is there. Consider the content it presents and the way in which it supports and develops the author’s research argument, and do not hesitate to write as much as you need to in order to understand the article thoroughly and select key points for attention before you begin drafting the summary.

Although making rough notes might be an acceptable approach for how to summarize a journal article if you are the only person who will ever see your summary, it may still be advisable to produce a more polished document for later use, and if your summary is intended for publication or course credit, it will definitely need to be formally written in accordance with the guidelines. A professor may indicate that a point-form summary is acceptable for a university assignment, but in the absence of such instructions, complete sentences should be used. A summary of a journal article should also be carefully organized, so the article and the topic of the research can be introduced first, followed by an explanation of the author’s thesis and objectives or perhaps hypotheses and research questions. The research approach or methods could be described next, presenting the most important points and avoiding excessive detail, and the results of the research could then be outlined, along with the author’s interpretations and explanations of limitations and implications. Indicating whether the objectives were met or how the evidence offered in the article supports the author’s thesis or hypothesis is usually appropriate, but introducing your own critical thoughts or drawing your own conclusions is not. The idea is to summarize the content in your own words, not evaluate or criticize it unless that is explicitly requested in the instructions. The structure of the article, the specific points and examples you choose for discussion, and the guidelines you are following will all contribute to the final form of the summary, but rereading, revising, editing and correcting to remove all errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation, to improve any awkward or unclear passages, and to ensure an objective and accurate representation of the article are always appropriate strategies for how to summarize a journal article effectively.

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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.

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