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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Writer's Manual: Academic Summary

Department of Languages, Literature and Communication

Academic Summary

An academic summary is a concise representation of an academic text. The summary’s purpose is to enable the reader to determine, in a limited amount of time, if and why a paper, chapter or book is worth reading.

An academic summary is different from an abstract. An abstract is a brief representation of the main results and conclusions of the study. An academic summary characteristically shows the (argumentation) structure of the text; the skeleton of the argument skeleton.

The summary should be a flowing text, written in your own words. This means that copying exact phrases from the original text is not permitted. Moreover, the text should be written in well-formulated Dutch or English, and intelligible to an audience that is not acquainted with the original text.

Purpose of an Academic Summary

Students are expected to be able to quickly penetrate the structure and core ideas of a text, and to reproduce them concisely in their own words. One way of doing this is writing a summary.

Summarising is pausing in order to get ahead. The purpose of the summary determines at which places to halt and what to see there. Students usually summarise texts to help them pass an exam. In such cases, a summary prepares the student for possible exam questions. However, a summary can have other functions as well: students may be asked to summarise a text in preparation of a critical discussion during a tutorial. Students could also summarise part of a text because they want to use certain data while writing an essay or thesis.

In short, a summary can serve three functions:

  • Explaining a text: intended to explore the text type, the main themes, and the theoretical framework; focuses on the general content (annotated bibliography).
  • Replacing a text: extracts the most important (sub)themes of a text based on a well-considered selection (extract, exam preparation, reading report)
  • Discussing a text: a critical report with an substantiated final conclusion (review, essay, final paper, preparation for a group discussion)

The purpose for which you are examining a text or the aim of a summary can be different for each course. So, make sure you take a thorough look at the assignment before you start reading or summarising.

How to write an Academic Summary

Selecting information for the summary can be difficult, yet it is very important. Certain aspects play an important role here:

  • The general purpose for writing the summary, or the academic audience the target readers – scholarly readers – for whom the summary is written.
  • Other researchers or readers should be able to reconstruct the general idea described in the investigation, using the information provided in the summary. This means that all information essential for this study should be discussed.
  • The information must be presented as described in the original article. This means that you are not allowed to present the information according to your own interpretation unless the assignment/course instructor tells you to do so.
  • A recurring problem is that in a scientific text discussion and conclusion may be intertwined. The discussion found in the original text has to be excluded from your summary.

Form and Content of an Academic Summary

The format of an academic summary is nearly always the same. If you have a valid reason, you can deviate from the original order in which the information is presented by the author. A summary of a research report must contain the following information:

  • Research question/problem statement
  • Motivation/relevance
  • Theoretical framework
  • Method
  • Results/arguments
  • Conclusion

The various components of a summary must be clearly recognisable. These will be discussed below. 

Research question/Problem statement

  • A well-written summary contains a clear research question or problem statement that will be answered or argued in the text by the author. What exactly is being examined? What is the specific issue the author wants to give insight in? On the basis of which specific case did he or she do that?

Motivation/relevance

  • In this section of the summary you will answer the question why this investigation has been conducted. The research question or the definition of the problem statement is connected to an issue that is of importance to the author, either in a social or academic context. What is the author’s motivation? What lacuna is the research text trying to fill?

Theoretical framework

  • Subsequently, you should clarify within what framework the investigation has been conducted. From which theoretical perspective has the author approached the issue? Which scientific theories or models does the author use as starting point to describe, analyse, interpret and explain the issue?

Method

  • In this section you will explain how the investigation has been carried out. Only state the outlines; there is no need to explain in full detail. Deliver a concise description of how the investigation has been generated, analysed and interpreted by means of a scientifically proven method. Keep to the most important aspects, such as the structure of the most important data and the method used in the analysis.

Results/Arguments

  • In this section you should process the outcome of the investigation. Do not mention all findings in the summary; narrow it down to the most important findings or arguments relevant for answering the research question or supporting the main thesis. Any unexpected outcomes are to be mentioned as well.

Conclusion

  • The research question has to be answered in this part of the academic summary. You are not allowed to submit any new information.

Your own opinion (optional)

  • Sometimes, depending on the assignment or the purpose of the summary, it can be useful to provide your own opinion on the text/quality of the investigation. Was it carried out in a way you agree with? Does the author use valid arguments? Make sure to provide your own opinion in a separate paragraph; the summary itself has to be objective.

Language, style and spelling of an Academic Summary

Word choice, sentence structure, and style are of great importance when writing a summary of a scientific article. As a general rule, the text should be easy to read and understand. Moreover, your usage should match your scholarly/intended/involved readers. Naturally, you should not use inappropriate or vernacular language. It is also important to use proper academic style, which means that the summary must be objective. Formulations must be accurate, so vague terminology such as ‘all sorts’, ‘some’ and ‘a few’ are best avoided. Your text cannot contain any spelling errors, and the grammar must be adequate. Also, be consistent in the use of grammatical tense. 

Evaluation Criteria Academic Summary (only available in Dutch)