How to Summarize an Article the Smart Way

All throughout your English, literature, and history classes, you’ve been learning the importance of analyzing over summarizing. But there’s a time and a place for everything—and for summarizing, that’s right here, right now.

how to summarize an article

Learning how to summarize an article is important. It’s a skill you can use in basically any class and even in many jobs. It’s not as in-depth as writing a full analysis. It does come with its own set of techniques and challenges, though.

But don’t worry—with my help, you’ll be able to master those techniques and overcome those challenges in no time.

Why Learn How to Summarize an Article?

Why would your instructor even give this assignment to you? Some teachers do it to ensure students are actually paying attention and doing their assigned readings.

Other teachers do it so that students see the deeper value of summarizing—and that’s what I’m going to teach you about.

Summarizing allows you to read an article and really understand it. This is helpful in analysis essays for all your classes and can help you in other areas of your life as well. You’ll be able to take complex, sometimes lengthy information and distill it into a more understandable format.

That skill can help in careers such as teaching or marketing, or it can just become a skill that leads to better quality conversations with others.

But enough with the why—let’s get into the how.

Reading the Article

how to summarize an article

The first step is to actually read the article. If you get the option to choose your own article, choose one that you can really get into. It makes reading and writing a lot easier and a lot more fun.

Scan for the main idea

What’s the point of the article? Most writing has a thesis statement that will give you a good idea of the main point, but you also want to look for things such as the title, headings, and the main supporting arguments for the thesis.

Finding these elements will ensure that you uncover the most important points for your summary.

Read more thoroughly

Now that you know what the article is generally about, you need to understand the finer details, such as how the article relates to or impacts society. You also need to understand the reasoning behind their supporting arguments.

This will help you develop a more nuanced summary—and it’ll let your instructor know you actually read the whole article.

Take notes in your own words

how to summarize an article
“Montaigne Scholarship student taking notes Shimer College 2011” by Shimer College, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Taking notes directly on the article is helpful, but if it’s online, you can jot your notes down on a piece of paper or in a Word document. The main point, though, is to write in your own words.

This achieves a couple of things.

First, it helps avoid the risk of plagiarism when you actually go to write your summary. Second, it puts the concepts you’re reading into language your brain recognizes better. This will help you really grasp the material.

Summarize each section of the article

Breaking the article down section by section isn’t so important to do if you’re working with a shorter article. But it can be really helpful for articles that are three to five pages or more.

Judging by their length, these articles probably cover a lot of ground—and you’ll have to touch on all of that in your summary. Doing mini summaries along the way helps you condense the information while it’s still fresh.

Ultimately, that gives you a head start on the writing process.

How to Summarize an Article, in 4 Steps

Now that you’ve read through the article and have your notes in front of you, it’s time to dive in. Learning how to summarize an article may take some getting used to after all that conditioning in English class that told you not to rely on summary.

Following the steps I detail below will help.

For my examples, I’m going to summarize Juno and the Culture Wars by Ann Hulbert, a movie review written for Slate in 2007.

Step #1: Develop a thesis statement

Like any essay you write, your summary should include a thesis statement. However, you aren’t the one making the claim—the author who wrote the article is.

Your thesis statement should relay the main message of the article, as put forth by the author, as well as its supporting arguments. Remember, all of this needs to be done in your own words.

My thesis statement would look like this:

Juno’s quirky title character confronts the embattled ideas over family structure, abortion, class, and other points of argument in modern society by not taking a hard stance on any of it. It is this refusal to go hard left or hard right that allows Juno to be such a powerful, innocent, and believable character.

Step #2: Organize your ideas

how to summarize an article
“Organize” by NY Photographic, Blue Diamond Gallery (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Drafting an outline for a summary essay takes less time than it does for, say, an analysis. But the process is different.

For a summary, you’ll want to look through your notes and decide what absolutely needs to go into the final paper. There will be a few notes that don’t make the final cut. That’s okay.

If you don’t think you’ll need certain notes, don’t completely delete or erase them. You might find you need them later.

The goal of a summary outline is to determine which points are most important and which points can be left out. The structure and order of the article determine the order of ideas for your summary.

Here’s how my outline would look:

  1. Introduction
    1. Bibliographical information
    2. Thesis statement
  2. Tackling social stereotypes about teens and sex
    1. Alternative to the term “sexually active”
    2. A teenager who doesn’t fit in anywhere but isn’t a loner
  3. Abortion
    1. Goes to clinic but doesn’t follow through
    2. Wants to make her own decision
  4. Marriage and childrearing
    1. Class differences between Juno, and Vanessa and Mark
    2. Hesitant about Vanessa being a control freak but finds Mark easy to relate to
    3. Mark’s inability to take responsibility infuriates Juno
  5. Single parenthood
    1. Not discussed in feminist terms
    2. Neither condemned nor lauded, simply shown as Vanessa’s new sense of “normal”
  6. Conclusion

Step #3: Write your summary

how to summarize an article

In the introduction, you’ll include your thesis statement and the bibliographic information about the article, including the title and author. Put this information in a format that’s easy to read and flows naturally.

Here’s what my introduction would look like:

In the Slate article “Juno and the Culture Wars,” Ann Hulbert discusses how the movie Juno says a lot by not saying anything definitive. Juno’s quirky title character confronts the embattled ideas over family structure, abortion, class, and other points of argument in modern society by not taking a hard stance on any of it. It is this refusal to go hard left or hard right that allows Juno to be such a powerful, innocent, and believable character.

Your body paragraphs will include your actual summary. The lengthier the article, the more you have to cover. But remember, you’re distilling information down, not writing a whole new article.

Stick to the main points and the supporting arguments. Don’t add your own thoughts about what the author is saying or how it relates to other articles or anything like that.

Your grades will thank you.
Never miss a post. Get free weekly writing help delivered straight to your inbox!

Stick to summarizing.

One of my body paragraphs may be written like this:

Juno never has a desire to fit in. Raised by blue-collar parents with no obvious preference for liberal or conservative ideologies, she is supported to be her own person. She doesn’t fit into any cliques, but is not a pariah, either. This character breaks expectations of age and gender by not falling into any one category. With a straightforward sense of wit, she isn’t infantilized or made to be an overtly sexualized character.

In the conclusion, wrap up by restating the main point of the article and the conclusions the author of the article drew. If it’s a scientific article, this can include results of testing or proving a hypothesis.

If it’s a sociological article, it may be loftier ideas about how the content relates to society as a whole. You don’t have to agree with the author’s conclusion. You do, however, still have to include it in your summary.

Here’s how my conclusion might read:

In the end, Juno speaks to the multitude of family structures, neither lauding or criticizing them. Instead, the movie presents multiple perspectives in an honest way that opens the eyes of viewers who may have forgotten that different forms of family can work.

Step #4: Compare your summary to the article and edit

how to summarize an article

Once you’re finished with your summary, read it over. Then reread the article. This will help you pinpoint any important ideas you might have missed. Then do your normal editing, checking for proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, and flow.

With these four steps as your secret weapon, you should now be confident in how to summarize an article. Need some examples before you tackle your own article summary? Check out these examples:

Final Thoughts

After you’ve finished your summary, it may not feel like you’ve done enough because you haven’t analyzed anything. But if the assignment is to write a summary, resist the urge to do so.

Look over your paper again, or send it to the Kibin editors for review. They’ll make sure your summary is an actual summary and nothing more—and they’ll also make sure it’s awesome.

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.