Many students and teachers dislike writing summaries, and some novice teachers can’t help their students because they admit that they can’t write summaries themselves. They mark students’ summaries using the teacher’s book and the examples given. However, it is easy to write a summary and knowing how to summarise an article is a very useful skill.
Summarising a factual article is not difficult. On the other hand, summarising a descriptive passage or article is. If you omit all the descriptive words, you will be left with a very simple text which has lost most of its tone and ‘flavour.’ Luckily you will rarely be asked to summarise an article which contains rich descriptions.
The types of article that you usually need to summarise are scientific articles or academic articles. To summarise these well, you need to thoroughly understand them. You may need to check facts in an encyclopaedia (in print or online) and you really should use a good dictionary and thesaurus. (Ask your tutor or supervisor to recommend them.) The latter is best for finding synonyms and antonyms which are necessary for paraphrasing. It is of paramount importance that you understand the article you are going to summarise.
If the article is rather complex, read it and run your verbal understanding of it past your friend. Hopefully, if you have got something wrong, your friend will be able to explain why what you thought was wrong. Friends are not as judgemental as some tutors, so it is often easy to ask them rather than your supervisor for help. Remember, though, that if you don’t get on well with your supervisor, you can always ask your head of department if you can be assigned another supervisor.
If you have a friend who is a native speaker of English and very well-educated, ask him or her to help you. If you have discovered a new word in the article you are to summarise, try it out on your friend. Make a sentence with it and ask if you have used it correctly. Often there are subtle differences in usage between synonyms.
You shouldn’t, when you are in higher education, use a dictionary which gives words and meanings in your own language. It is much better to use an English-English dictionary. If you use a students’ dictionary, it will probably give you example sentences which demonstrate how the target word is used.
When you use a thesaurus, you need to check the meanings of the synonyms and antonyms listed as they will have at least subtly different meanings. It is painstaking work, but it cannot be avoided if your aim is to write well and obtain good grades. It is better to take time over your work than to rush and fail a course or an assignment.