Thompson Rivers University

How to Write an Academic Summary

  Posted on: March 15, 2016

by Jessica Messerer-Trosin

Writing a summary is a common assignment for first-year English students, yet the idea of condensing a 10-page academic article into 500-750 words can seem like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be. To ensure your summary is a success, here are a few easy steps to follow:

  1. If possible, print out a copy of the article. Underline and/or highlight the most important parts and make notes in the margins.
  2. Identify the argument the author is trying to make – their thesis. The best places to look for this are in the introduction (where the author will introduce his/her thesis) and in the conclusion (where they will restate it).
  3. Read through the article multiple times. At this stage, try to pick out what each of the main sections is about. Find the most important information that supports the author’s argument and their major points.  A good starting place is in the introduction (where the author should introduce their main points) and in the conclusion (where they will summarize the main points).
  4. Now, in your own words, explain what the main argument of the article is, and, in separate paragraphs, what each of the main supporting ideas are.
  5.  Don’t forget to add a Works Cited Page (for MLA) or References Page (for APA). Anything you quote or paraphrase must be cited.

Take a look at what you have written. Consider this: Would someone who had not read the article be able to grasp what it was about, what it argued and how that argument was supported just from reading your summary? That should be your goal.


  • State the full name of the author as well as the title of the article at the beginning of the summary – the reader needs to know what you are summarizing.
  • Take a day or two (or longer) between readings. You will probably pick up on different information each time you read it.


  • Include a lot of quotes. A summary should be, as much as possible, your own words. If a short quote is critical to what you are saying, you can use it. But remember, the number of words in a summary is limited; don’t take up valuable space with long quotations.
  • Include minor details. A summary should include only the main points of the argument the author is making. Specific details are usually not important to the overall argument of the article.


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