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“A fundamental part of academic study is reading the work of other people and using their ideas to develop your own.”
Summarising is similar to paraphrasing, but instead of ending up with a piece of text of similar length, your text will be significantly shorter than the original.
What is summarising?
Summarising is similar to paraphrasing, but instead of ending up with a piece of text of similar length, your text will be significantly shorter than the original. The idea is to pick out just the points that are relevant to your own writing. Often you are summarising whole chapters of books or whole journal articles so it enables you to show the range of your reading. You will need to reference them in a similar way to paraphrasing - but if you have summarised a whole source you will not need to give a page number even if your style usually uses them for paraphrased text. If you have summarised a shorter section, from 1 or 2 pages, you should use page numbers if it is required for paraphrases.
Summarising shows you are reading critically and able to pick out which points from a source are relevant to the argument you are making. Like paraphrasing, it shows that you have understood the information and are able to express it in your own writing style. If you can express the information from a complex source simply and concisely then you are demonstrating a high level of comprehension which will be appreciated by your tutors.
Summarising a journal article or book chapter
When summarising an entire source such as a journal article, you can still take a particular angle on the source and be selective about what parts of the source best back up that angle. Of course you cannot misrepresent the article, so you must read it in full first to ensure that what your are saying is not contradicting the author's intent.
If you are summarising a journal article, you can start with the abstract - after all that is usually the author's own summary of their work. For chapters in edited books, the editors often give a summary of the chapters in their introduction. You should not use this instead of reading the whole source, but it is a good first place to look as you can get an idea what the author/editor thinks is important.
Abstracts can themselves be summarised still further to form something that you can use in your own work. For example, look at the following abstract from our own Lee Fallin's paper Beyond books: the concept of the academic library:
The paper aims to explore the issues surrounding the user conceptualisation of academic libraries. The paper will solidify the role of academic libraries as learning spaces and problematise how libraries are conceptualised by users.
The paper is a literature-based conceptual paper and draws on a wide range of literature to challenge the concept of academic libraries and presents how they are becoming reframed as different spaces.
The paper argues that the concept of a library is at risk. While libraries have undergone substantial changes, the concept of a library has lingered. This paper demonstrated that libraries need to proactively engage users in this debate.
The spatial approach taken by this paper demonstrates the complicity behind the user conceptualisation of libraries. Developing an understanding of this process is an important foundation for libraries to develop their user engagement.
This is an example of a structured abstract which is required by some journals - many others are free text with no headings. Summarising this to a single paragraph (for example to use in a literature review or annotated bibliography), may produce something like this:
Fallin (2016) argues that while the term ‘library’ is often framed as something universally understood, it is actually more complicated. Instead, libraries should be seen as concepts, open to a range of different interpretations and understandings. He suggests this could be problematic as there is often a mismatch between what libraries actually do and how they are understood. The traditional view of the library as a book-based institution still perpetuates but does not account for the new services libraries provide.
If you were using this source to back up an argument within an essay, you probably would not need even this much detail. The following could be enough:
Shorter summary 1
Fallin (2016) argues that although the traditional view of the library as a book-based institution still perpetuates, this does not account for the new services libraries provide.
Depending on the angle you are taking, you could choose to summarise the article differently. The main point of this summary is not found within the abstract but is heavily alluded to within the paper itself - showing how you cannot just rely on the abstract alone:
Shorter summary 2
Fallin (2016) argues that individuals conceive the academic library differently which makes it difficult for library management to create spaces that work for all users.
Analysing your summary
When summarising, you should not include your own comments or analysis within the summary. However, you must do this before or after the summary to show that you are not just informing the reader of what the article said, but are integrating it into your own argument. Phrases like "what this means is..."; "this suggests that..."; "in the context of [essay topic], this may indicate that..." need to be used to show how the article is relevant to the claims you are making in your paragraph.