Skip to main content

How to Write a Summary of a Journal Article in 4 Steps

Daniel studied history and summarized countless journal articles both for assignments and to boost his comprehension.

Writing a summary can help you better understand what you've read and how to use it as a source for your own work.

Writing a summary can help you better understand what you've read and how to use it as a source for your own work.

Writing a Summary Can Help You Understand a Journal Article

Writing a summary of a journal article is not only a common assignment across academic disciplines, but it's also one of the best ways to digest and understand the material you're reading.

While working on my degree in history, most of my sources were academic journals rather than books. While trying to understand if I should really use a given piece as a source or not, I found it very helpful to write out a summary of the article—even if it wasn't required by the teacher. Summarizing is just that important of a skill.

In this article, I outline the process I use to read, understand, and summarize academic journal articles. This process can be applied to summary-writing assignments, or you can simply use it to boost your reading comprehension.

How to Summarize a Journal Article

  1. Find an article.
  2. Read the article.
  3. Gather information.
  4. Write the summary.
Online research has become an essential step for any kind of writing.

Online research has become an essential step for any kind of writing.

1. Find an Article

There are many places that have journal articles, but sometimes it's hard to know if they are credible. In unlucky situations, websites may try to charge you a lot of money to read their articles and use their information. This is generally the wrong way to go about it. Most schools, colleges, and universities have databases they subscribe to and pay for to allow students to complete their academic work.

One of the best journal article databases (in my opinion) is JSTOR. This website has most of the information you could need for most subjects and has a very good interface where you can look for specific keywords, lines, authors, subjects, etc.

For other online databases, you will want to look at your school's library website. There they should list the websites they subscribe to and explain to access them for free.

For those who want to do things the old-fashioned way, many colleges and universities have a large number of academic journals in their libraries. Exploring these can be a little daunting, however. When I went to university, they were all set in these large, rather heavy binders, and I had to go through each journal one by one trying to find titles that sounded like they could have information. Not only do online research methods cut out travel time, but they also save hours of looking through journals and cross-referencing, so I highly recommend staying online.

Looking for journal articles online takes far less time than digging through vintage journals in person by hand.

Looking for journal articles online takes far less time than digging through vintage journals in person by hand.

2. Read the Article

There are many ways to start a summary, and how you do so should depend on your personal preference and time. Most academic journal articles have an abstract at the top, which should give you a short summary of the article. You should definitely read that along with the entire article if you are doing this for an article-summarizing assignment.

Before using an article as a source for a paper, it is important to read the whole article (or skim if time is short) because you want to have the whole context and get an idea of whether the author is trustworthy or not. It's hard to overstate the importance of this. I had written a paper based on facts I found in a set of articles by the same author. The day before turning said paper in, I heard something that went against my paper completely. I headed back to my source and decided to read the entire article, and it turns out the person was completely off base. At one point she called Queen Elizabeth (the "virgin queen") the biggest whore in the kingdom. This definitely discredited the source completely, and I immediately needed to do new research and write a new paper. This would have all been avoided if I had written a summary and read the whole article rather than just the parts that pertained to what I wanted to use to support my hypothesis.

3. Gather Information

While you are reading the article, make sure you write down (or copy and paste) key details you think are important from the text. As the digitization of older articles becomes more and more common, it is easier to copy and paste or search articles to save vast amounts of time. Make sure you have the author's thesis and supporting facts down, along with anything you find interesting, and you are ready to begin!

Take notes (or copy and paste salient points) as you read.

Take notes (or copy and paste salient points) as you read.

4. Write the Summary

You should have most of what you need by now, but journal article-summary assignments are looking for a lot more than just a reformatting of information; they are usually looking for an analysis of the author's ideas, research practices, and qualifications as well.

So, what to write?

Start with the research methods, qualifications, and what the research was about. This gives credibility to the source and makes it clear why you trust your source enough to write a paper using their information. You should also tell the reader what the summary will be covering.

Use the list you made while taking notes to summarize the article. Make sure you reword the information and make it more concise for the reader. Remember—a summary exists so that your reader doesn't have to read the article, so keep it short (or to the page requirement by the teacher).

Finish with the closing statements of the article, what the results were, and any criticism you have of the author's work. If you find you have space left as per your page requirement, you can add in the most interesting thing you found about the article, something you learned, or how the content relates to the class or subject.

After writing this, you should definitely re-read everything you wrote to make sure your summary matches the article. However, as long as everything looks good, you should be done.

Good luck!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Dannivieve Yabp on July 17, 2014:

If you just know how you save me from my thesis .. Thank you, thank you , thank you for this .. I really understand you make it all so easy .. I love you so much for this

Jasmine Eden from Chicago on December 31, 2012:

This is such an amazing information for the writer... If any person have a problem to write its article then you must visit and read it ... dead sure you get the relief from your problems.....

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 10, 2012:

Brilliantly written and explained such valuable information. You certainly made your point here thanks for this Hub. A helpful one to any writer.