The old adage, practice makes perfect, is certainly true when it comes to writing summaries. To perfect your summary writing skills, you need a lot of practice. If your first language is not English, you might be able to attend classes for non-native speakers of English. Find out if there are classes which are aimed at teaching non-native speakers academic writing skills. These typically last for a semester and they will almost certainly help with summary writing skills as well as essay writing.
Although you may be able to write very well in your own language, you will probably find that writing conventions differ across cultures. For example, in cultures in which the concept of ‘face’ and ‘face-saving’ is important, the writing style will be less direct and open than the style favoured in the UK, the US and Australia, for example. Flowery language is not acceptable in science departments in these countries, for example. Writing is expected to be straightforward and direct. This is also true of summary writing of course. You are not expected to demonstrate your wonderful literary style (in your own language, that is), with all its embellishments. All you have to do is write in an academic manner, and when writing a summary, you have to be as brief and clear as possible.
Attending a university writing class may take up some of your leisure time, but if you want to get good grades, devoting time to studying how to write may be necessary.
Ask your supervisor or tutors to help you enrol on a course if necessary.
As you are not in an exam situation, you can find an article related to your subject area.
- Read the article very carefully a few times. You need to be familiar with the text before you even think of summarising it.
- Photocopy the article so that you have a clean copy when you have finished your summary.
- If you usually underline key points when you read articles, do this.
- If you are the type of student who makes notes while reading, do so.
- Read the list above once again and find the main ideas in the article. Underline them or make notes.
- Practise writing a summary of the text you have chosen.
- Paraphrase the key points. (In other words, use your own words and phrases to write the key points.) Do this as concisely as possible. Don’t ever copy the wording of an article or other text. This is plagiarism and you will be penalised for it.
- Don’t quote from the article unless you are specifically asked to do so. Again, paraphrase the information, so as to avoid being accused of plagiarism.
- Make sure that you have found the main idea contained in the article which will usually feature prominently in the introductory paragraph.
- Remember that plagiarism checkers allow up to three words in sequence to be used in your writing, so don’t agonise too much if you can’t think of how to paraphrase a three-word phrase.
- When you have finished the first draft of your summary, check it with the original article. Make sure that you have included the most important ideas and be certain that you have in no way misrepresented what the original author intended.
Don’t be tempted to use software to write your summary. Although some tools are good, most aren’t even adequate. The same goes for other kinds of writing software. If you have come across articles, blogs and other forms of writing on the internet that are virtually incomprehensible, the chances are that they were produced by a software tool. Many webmasters believe in ‘spinning’ articles. While this is a cheap way of getting multiple articles from a single source, it is not worth doing as readers will become alienated when they are confronted with the gobbledegook such tools produce. Experienced human writers are much better at spinning articles than software tools, as long as they have the necessary paraphrasing skills, and can use synonyms and antonyms. Experienced writers can produce multiple texts from one article without resorting to plagiarism.
Don’t ever include your thoughts on the article in your summary. You should only summarise the article you have read. You are not expected to give an opinion of the article.
When you believe that you have finished your summary, show it to your supervisor. Invite his or her comments and be prepared to rewrite it, or at least, sections of it. You need to be able to accept constructive criticism, whether it is from your tutor, supervisor or friends. They are only trying to help you achieve a good result.