How to Write a Summary of an Article in 5 Easy Steps

When you’re summarizing, you’re simply trying to express something in fewer words. I’m Tutor Phil, and in this tutorial, I’ll show you how to summarize an article, step by step. 

Without further ado, here are your…

Five Steps to Writing a Great Article Summary

Step 1. Identify your summary goal

This is a crucial step because you want to know where you’re headed before you begin the journey. 

Here are three questions you should get clear answers to before you start working on your summary:

  • How many words or paragraphs should the summary contain?
  • Can or should I use quotations?
  • Do I have any other specific requirements from my instructor?

Answering these three questions will give you a very good idea of the end result, and that is very helpful. 

Here are two examples of different requirements:

  1. The article is three magazine pages long, and you must summarize it in a three paragraph essay
  2. The article is only about 600 words long, and you should summarize it in 150-200 words

Do you see how these two outcomes are different? You’ll see exactly what I mean as we summarize an article together in a second. 

But just note that in the first example you’ll write a lot more than in the second one. This may also mean that you are allowed to use a quotation or two. The second example is probably too short to use quotations. 

Having clarity of the outcome will make your job writing the summary a lot easier. 

Step 2. Read the article, summarizing each paragraph

This step allows you to deal with the article one paragraph at a time instead of trying to swallow it whole. You don’t even have to do multiple readings. Just make sure that each of your paragraph summaries is accurate. 

Here is how you do it. As you read each paragraph, your task is twofold:

  1. Ask these two questions repeatedly:
    • What or who is this paragraph about?
    • What about it (or what about this person)?
  2. Write down the answer in one or two complete sentences. 

Note that if your summary goal is to write three or more paragraphs, then you should probably write more than two sentences per summarized paragraph in the second step here. 

If, on the other hand, your goal is one paragraph total, then one or two sentences per paragraph summary should do the job. This is why it is important for you to get totally clear on how many words you want in your final summary. 

When you’re doing this procedure for each paragraph, you’re creating a list of short paragraph summaries that together will eventually summarize the entire article.

Also, by the time you’re done reading the article this way, you will have a pretty good idea of its overall message. 

Let’s read and summarize an article. First, let’s set a goal of writing one paragraph of about 150-200 words. This means we shouldn’t use direct quotations. And we have no other requirements. Great.

Note that if you are writing a summary that has to contain more than one paragraph, refer to my tutorial on how to write body paragraphs. Then simply take what you’ve learned here about summarizing and apply it to each paragraph in a longer summary.

Let’s continue. We need an article to summarize, and here it is below. Let’s read it, summarizing each paragraph.

Sample Article to Summarize

Do Parents Know Best When It Comes to Career Choice?

Paragraph 1

Growing up, like most of his peers, Ahmad worshipped his parents. And wonderful, loving parents they were. They provided him with the best education they could buy and lavished love and attention on their only son. As he was growing into an educated, responsible adult, they insisted that he go into the medical profession, in spite of his expressed desire of becoming a teacher. Today, Ahmad is a doctor at the NYU hospital and earns a bountiful living. The only problem is that he’s not happy. His childhood dream of becoming a teacher did not materialize and became a source of a nagging sense of a lack of fulfillment. 

Summary of paragraph 1

Questions and answers:

What or who is this paragraph about?

– This paragraph is about Ahmad. 

What about Ahmad?

– His parents insisted that he enter the medical profession. He is a successful doctor, but he is unhappy and wishes he were a teacher. 

Let’s put this together into one or two complete sentences. As we do, we should also change some of the words to make sure we don’t sound as if we’re just repeating stuff. Let’s do it:

Ahmad’s parents steered him into the medical field, against his wishes. As a result, he is a successful doctor, but his unfulfilled dream of becoming a teacher haunts him. 

Note how we used the phrase “steered into the medical field” to replace the phrase “insisted that he go into the medical profession.” 

We want to use our own words and shorten the content at the same time. 

Paragraph 2

A recent Gallup poll revealed that 85% of workers worldwide are unhappy or downright miserable at their jobs. A study published in the International Journal of Advanced Research in 2019 found that parents exert a significant influence on their children’s career choices, especially in some cultures and parts of the world. Could there be a correlation? A cursory look at the issue can be revealing. Children tend to regard their parents as gods, capable of everything except error. This misconception eventually wanes, but the process can take years or even decades. But can parents really provide great career advice or direction, given their high authority in the eyes of their children? Most parents, studies show, never bother to uncover their children’s talents, strengths, and weaknesses. They generally either do not care about or fail to understand the importance of matching the child’s inborn potential with a career choice. 

Questions and answers:

What or who is this paragraph about?

– This paragraph is about widespread job dissatisfaction.

– It is also about parents as bad career advisors. 

What about these concepts?

– Job dissatisfaction rates are appalling. One possible cause is parental pressure. But parents don’t make good career advisors because they almost never bother to explore their child’s inborn potential.   

Let’s put this together into one or two complete sentences:

Job dissatisfaction rates are appalling, and one possible cause is parental pressure. While children tend to deem their parents ultimate authorities on everything, they should take parental advice about choosing a profession with a grain of salt. Parents often do not bother to evaluate their children’s inborn talents, strengths, and weaknesses.

Okay, we have three sentences here, but that’s okay. We can trim down the final result, if necessary. Let’s keep going. 

Paragraph 3

Furthermore, parents are often motivated by factors other than their child’s sense of fulfillment. Psychologists claim that parents are often unconsciously guided by their own self-interest or by a false sense of security. They want the best for the future of the family as whole, and that is often associated with a high status. In other words, it may be more important for the parents that their child make them a proud member of a community by gaining a high post or a lucrative salary. They may also consider some careers more stable and safe. This notion persists in parents in spite of overwhelming evidence that the stability of a career is highly dependent on the employee’s satisfaction with the career choice. Those who feel miserable at the job sooner or later find a way to escape it and end up taking a pay cut in return for higher job satisfaction. 

Questions and answers:

What or who is this paragraph about?

– This paragraph is about more reasons why parents should not guide their children’s careers. 

What about these reasons?

– Parents often make bad career counselors because they are driven by selfish yet unconscious motivations. Their desire for status and security backfires when their children change careers and take a pay cut to gain higher job satisfaction.  

Let’s put this together into one or two complete sentences:

Parents often act out of selfish yet unconscious motivations. Their desire for status and security backfires when their children change careers and take a pay cut to gain more job satisfaction. 

Paragraph 4

Despite the sad statistics, not all parental career guidance is bad. Stacey is a highly paid educator who loves her job. Her parents took care to learn as much as possible about her as she was growing up and were able to guide her to an ideal career. She is now a professor of music at a university. She gets to perform and teach her beloved musical instrument – the violin. Contrary to what many may think, Stacey’s parents are not musicians, and she did not follow in their footsteps. They are psychologists, and that explains a lot. Stacey is lucky, but not many people can boast parents who understand the importance of exploring the child’s inner world or care to uncover the child’s potential. Most parents simply don’t know. 

Questions and answers:

What or who is this paragraph about?

– This paragraph is mostly about Stacey.

What about Stacey?

– She is an example of when parental career advice works out well. However, most people can’t expect to turn out like she did.   

Let’s put this together into one or two complete sentences:

Sometimes parental career advice works, and Stacey is a great example. She’s an accomplished musician and educator and loves her work life. Unfortunately, most people cannot expect a similar outcome. 

We have three sentences again. But that’s fine. Sometimes a paragraph contains more than two distinct ideas. Just write them down in a concise form. Keep moving forward.

Paragraph 5

In a world where parents make such incompetent career advisors, young adults can and should consult with professionals with regards to their future. Career counselors and coaches can help a young person navigate the muddy waters of vocational decision-making. By taking into account such considerations as personality type, passion, a gravitation towards a subject, and strengths and weaknesses, among other factors, these professionals can guide a young person towards a career that is likely to be rewarding and fulfilling. Ironically, a good income and job security are likely to follow, as well. 

Questions and answers:

What or who is this paragraph about?

– This paragraph is about an alternative approach to making career choices. 

What about it?

– Using the services of career counselors and coaches is a much better way to decide on a career. There is an irony in this, too.   

Let’s put this together into one or two complete sentences:

Using the services of career counselors and coaches is a much better way to decide on a career. Ironically, this can increase the chances of higher pay and better job security.

Awesome! We’re ready for the next step. 

Step 3. Put the paragraph summaries together

At this point, you’ll have a list of paragraph summaries. They make the bulk of your final summary paragraph, though they need some work. 

In this step, type all these short paragraph summaries together into a word processor, one after another. When you’re done, you’ll have a raw summary ready to be organized.

And let’s do it. We’ll simply copy all of the sentences we just wrote and paste them in sequence into one paragraph.

Raw Article Summary

This raw summary is 172 words long, which is perfectly within our goal. So, we have the amount of material we need. Now, we need to take the next step. 

Step 4. Organize the raw summary from general to specific

Here is something that is very important to understand about essay writing in general. An argumentative essay should proceed from general to specific. 

The truth is, however, that most articles you will summarize do not necessarily follow this rule. This means that you can find a specific statement, then a general one, then back to specific, and then to something irrelevant, and so on.

In other words, articles are not always examples of great academic writing. This is why the value of your summary is not only to provide a shorter version of an article but also to help the reader understand it.

To make the article easier to comprehend, your task is to arrange your summary from general to specific. This means the following:

  • State the summarized main point (thesis) in the very beginning
  • Provide the summaries of the supporting points immediately after the thesis
  • Provide summaries of examples last

A thesis is the main point of an article. It is the most general statement found in it. So state it upfront. No need for an introduction because including one would take away from your summary’s conciseness. 

The supporting points are the next most general statements. These are the other big ideas in the article, besides the main point.

And examples are the most specific bits of content. They serve to illustrate the main and supporting points. That’s why they should be included after the big ideas, not before. 

In this step, we’ll simply arrange the statements we have in the order of general to specific. We won’t do any other editing here because that comes in the next step.

Let’s do it. And here’s our resulting paragraph.

Article Summary – Arranged from General to Specific 

If you read this organized summary, you’ll notice how it flows much better than the raw version. That’s because the thoughts are arranged in a logical manner.

For example, we moved the example of Ahmad from the beginning of the article to the end of the section about parental pressure in career planning. That’s where this example really belongs. 

You see, if the author begins an article with an example, the reader doesn’t have a frame of reference because she doesn’t know what this is an example of. 

We correct this by organizing the summary from general to specific. But we have one final step to take to polish the summary and make sure it flows smoothly from beginning to end. 

Step 5. Make the final tweaks

In this step, you want to make some final edits and make this summary exemplary. To do that, execute the following potential tweaks:

If needed, add the main point as one sentence in the beginning.

Authors of articles don’t necessarily include one perfect statement that would summarize the entire article perfectly.

After organizing your article summary from general to specific, you may (or may not) notice that your most general statement still does not include the whole main idea of the article. If that’s the case, then put one together and state it as the first sentence of the summary. 

Importantly, in most cases, you should include a statement that introduces the author of the article and possibly the article title. The title can be shortened. 

Here is the phrase template you can use:

“In his article on X, [Author’s Name] (year of publication) argues that…”

Simply begin your summary with this statement, substituting the subject, the name of the author, and the year of publication. You may tweak this format depending on the citation style you use. 

You’ll see the example of this in the final version of the summary. 

Make sure sentences transition well from one to the next.

Remember, at this stage, you just have a sequence of sentences that you spliced together in the previous steps. Now, you need to make sure that the entire article summary reads smoothly. 

This means that you may need to tweak parts of some of the sentences to ensure nice transitions. 

Proofread – remove any errors or typos.

Finally, make sure that the article summary contains no grammatical errors and no typos. And when you’re done – you’re done!

And let’s do it. Let’s make these final tweaks to our sample summary.

Article Summary – Final Version

In his article on parental career advice, Thompson (2019) argues that career choice is an important decision that is best made with professional rather than parental guidance. While children tend to deem their parents as ultimate authorities on everything, they should take parental advice about choosing a profession with a grain of salt. Parents often do not bother to evaluate their children’s inborn talents, strengths, and weaknesses. And their advice is often self-serving, albeit unconsciously. The result is appalling rates of job dissatisfaction. Ahmad is a perfect example. He is a well-paid doctor who would rather be a teacher and enjoy his work. That said, when parents do pay attention, they can guide their child well, as Stacey’s example shows. She is an accomplished violinist and teacher who was guided by her psychologist parents and could not be happier as a professional. However, most children cannot boast parents who are psychologists, and uninformed parents will make mistakes with regards to their children’s future. Therefore, it is better for young adults to consult with a professional in early adulthood to determine the most fulfilling career course, ironically increasing the chances of higher pay and better job security.

Note the following facts about this final, tweaked version:

  • It opens with a sentence that mentions the source (subject, author, and year).
  • The first sentence also summarizes the entire point of the article.
  • The sequence of sentences flows smoothly.
  • We moved some parts around a little for better logical connections.
  • We made more changes in wording and phrasing to make it even more concise and non-repetitive. 

And there you have it – a five-step approach to summarizing an article. The next resource I would recommend for you is my tutorial on how to use transitions, since it’s a topic of its own. 

Hope this was helpful!

Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil is an e-learning professional who helps adult learners finish their degrees by teaching them academic writing skills.

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