Guidelines on Writing a Summary
A summary is a rather utilitarian written paper, so you should always bear in mind its primary goal – give the reader a clear understanding of what the article is about and what message the author meant to get across. That is why you should be very concise, clear and up to the point.
To write a good summary, you need to take the following steps
- Identify the topic of the article, i.e. what the article is about.
Tip: sometimes it is possible to formulate the topic of the article on the basis of its title, but you might still need to narrow it down.
e.g. Title: “Gender-Neutral Language”
Topic: correlation between the use of gender-specific words and gender inequality.
- Identify the thesis of the article
The thesis is the author’s main message. If you stop and think why the author took the trouble to write the article, you are most likely to arrive at the thesis. A thesis statement conveys the author’s precise opinion on the topic of the article. It cannot be just an observation or a question.
You might need to read the article again, in more detail.
Tip: the thesis is usually found at the end of the article, in its ultimate or penultimate paragraph, where the author summarises his or her arguments and reiterates the main idea.
The thesis is always very specific, unique. This is what makes the article special. To put it simple, if there could be several articles joint by the same topic, different authors naturally have different ideas on the issue.
e.g. Topic: correlation between the use of gender-specific words and the actual gender inequality
Thesis of Article A: The article claims that there is a direct link between the number of gender-specific professional words and gender discrimination in the workplace.
Thesis of Article B: The author posits that the massive influx of gender-neutral items in the modern English language does not entail any improvement in the sphere of gender inequality.
- Identify the author’s arguments
Run through the text again and find all the arguments the author provides to substantiate his/her thesis. Make notes in the margins: visual prompts help a lot.
- Write your summary
The first introductory paragraph is rather clichéd, it gives the details of the article (the title, the author, the source) as well as its topic and thesis the topic and the thesis.
e.g. The article entitled “Gender-Neutral Language” by John Smith, published in the Guardian on November 11, 2018 deals with the problem of the correlation between the use of gender-specific words and the actual gender inequality. The author posits that with the recent influx of gender-neutral words into the English language, the situation with gender equality in the workplace has improved significantly.
Remember that the number of paragraphs in a summary is not set in tablets of stone and does not have to be, or rather should not be the same as in the article. If you can group the author’s ideas as challenges and solutions, or causes and consequences, or advantages and disadvantages, then go for it and structure your summary accordingly.
Make sure you start each paragraph with the topic sentence, which is further developed and supported.The topic sentence embodies an argument provided by the author to support the thesis.
Many students will ask how long a summary should be. The answer is: as concise as possible, there is no limit as for the word count, bur approximately one third of the input text would do.
Another sensitive point is the conclusion. You should either finish off with the author’s last argument or the final idea he wants to get across (e.g. a possible remedy for the problem under consideration). If no new idea is introduced in the final paragraph(s) of the article, a summary does not need any conclusion at all. Remember that a summary is a sum-up of someone else’s written paper, so a sum-up of a sum-up would be too much of a good thing. But you can use the tips below to give your summary a finishing touch.