Answered By: Kate Plyley
Last Updated: Apr 10, 2019     Views: 4

Sometimes students will be asked to write a summary of an article for a class assignment. Often this task will be assigned in the first half of the course because it helps teach students important transferable skills that will be useful in future assignments, such as annotated bibliographies or research papers. This WriteAnswers entry will offer a few tips for writing a summary and provide links to additional information.

Understanding Your Assignment

To begin, the best place to start any new assignment (including a summary) is to understand the assignment instructions. Different instructors may have varying requirements and expectations, so if you’re unsure of what’s expected by your instructor, reviewing your assignment guidelines and asking your instructor for clarification when needed is generally the best starting point.

Explaining Summaries Using an Analogy

Returning specifically to summaries, the following analogy may help you better understand this assignment. Imagine you are a soccer fan, and you are excited for your favourite team’s match, but unfortunately you have a conflict and you cannot watch the game’s live broadcast. So, what do you do? When you return home, one strategy is to search for the highlight reel from the game. Whereas the entire soccer match is 90 minutes long (plus any added time), the highlight reel is typically only a couple minutes long. The highlight reel will show you the key moments from the game—goals scored on both sides, impressive saves by the goalies, significant penalties incurred, etc.—so you will learn all the important events that transpired without having watched the entire game.

In a sense, your summary is like a “highlight reel” of the article you are writing about. If written well, your summary should tell your readers the most significant information located in the article, so your readers will understand the article based on your summary (without ever having read the article itself).

Determining What Information to Include and Exclude

One of the main challenges of writing a summary is deciding what information to include and exclude from your description. Summaries are generally confined by a word count, so inevitably you will be required to make difficult choices about which details to leave out, which is one of the skills involved in writing this assignment. Thus, you must decide what information to include in your “highlight reel” (e.g. the article’s main thesis) and what information you will need to omit (e.g. the historical background section).

Additional Resources

For more information, please see the following resources: