How to summarise an article

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.

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  1. First of all, read the article through carefully several times to get the gist.
  2. Make notes of the main points or underline them.
  3. Paragraph by paragraph find the main idea.
  4. Put the main ideas into one or two paragraphs.
  5. Omit all adjectives and adverbs.
  6. Read through the notes and main points and write your summary.
  7. If necessary, cut out the linking words, conjunctions and phrases such as ‘on the other hand’; instead use ‘firstly’ etc.
  8. Count the words to be sure you do not go over the limit if you are asked to summarise a text in an examination. You could be penalised if the word length is over the set limit.

Be prepared to redraft and edit your work.

Native speakers can often write a summary in fewer words than a non-native speaker of English. In an examination, this is taken into account. When examiners set a summary as an exam task, they pilot the text and ask proficient native speakers (possibly other examiners) to write the summary. Then when everyone has more or less the same number of words in the summary, examiners add around 25 extra words to accommodate non-native speakers. Sometimes the summaries are done a second time and checked by different summary writers so that the summary pares the original text to the bone.

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.

If you are summarising an academic article you may need to use quotations in your summary. Alternatively, you can give the name of the author you are quoting along with the work you are quoting from and quote directly using quotation marks (inverted commas). Be sure to include citations.

If you don’t need to give quotes, paraphrase what an author says.

Some people advise writing your article summary without referring to the original article, as they believe that plagiarism can be avoided in this way. However, if you have a photographic memory don’t do this! Plagiarism is taken very seriously, and students can fail a course because of it, or even be sent down from a university

An important point to remember is that whatever you paraphrase must be attributed to the original article writer.

Paraphrasing and summarising in your own words are really the only ways of ensuring that you are avoiding plagiarism in your article. Paraphrasing allows you to get a good grasp of the author’s intentions and to comprehend the meaning of the text. When you paraphrase, your readers, particularly your tutors, should readily understand that you have a good grasp of the original author’s meaning.

If you look online, you will find downloadable tools that purport to produce summaries, but you may find that you are left with a summary which has used too many words and phrases straight from the article, and so you will be open to charges of plagiarism.

If you do resort to using software tools you will need to check the article thoroughly, not only for plagiarism but also for poor grammatical structures and even incorrect English usage. If English is not your first language, you may trust the work produced by the software tool and this could be disastrous.

Hopefully, now that you have read through this article, you feel better able to begin the task of writing your own summary of your chosen article. However, if you think that you need more help, don’t worry. Our team of expert writers are here to lend their assistance.

We can offer you a variety of academic writing services, so why not contact us and find out how we can help you specifically?

If your command of Standard English us not very good, and your department frowns on the use of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), we can simply rewrite what you have written in Standard English.

However, if your written English is usually of a fairly high standard, we can proof read and edit what you have written. There again, it is perfectly possible for us to write your article summary for you. When you have our article, you will be able to see exactly how to summarise an article.

Why not contact us now for further information? We look forward to hearing from you.

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