How to Write a Summary for a Journal Article
Keys to Understanding a Journal Article
Writing a summary for a journal article is not only a main assignment that most teachers assign, but its also one of the best ways to understand a journal article - especially more complex journal articles.
While working on my degree in history, many times most of my sources were academic journals rather than books. While trying to understand if I should really use the piece as my 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. Its just that important a skill.
Finding Academic Journal Articles
There are many places that have journal articles but sometimes its hard to know if they are credible. In more unlucky situations they try to charge you a lot of money to read the articles and use the 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. Here they should give both the websites and the way to access them for free.
For those who want to do things the old fashioned way, many colleges and universities have a large amount of academic journals in their libraries. This can be a little daunting however - when I went in to my university they were all set in these rather 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, they save hours of looking through journals and cross-referencing, so I highly recommend staying online.
Starting a Summary for a Journal Article: The Reading
There are many ways to start a summary, but it will mainly depend on your personal preference and time.
Most academic journal articles have an abstract at the top which should give you a miniature summary of the article. You should definitely read that along with the entire article if it is an article summarizing assignment. However, if this is not an article summarizing assignment and you are wanting to use information as a source from your paper, feel free to skim through the paper.
Especially 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, or know if the author is crazy or not. Its 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 crazy - 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.
Journal Article Summarization: Information Gathering
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 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 maybe something you find interesting, and you are ready to begin!
Writing a Journal Article Summary
You should have most of what you need with the list you have 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 so you believe in your source if you go on to write a paper using their information, along with telling the reader what the summary is covering.
- Use the list you made to summarize the article. Make sure you reword the information and make it more concise for the reader - remember, a summary is so you or your reader don'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 possibly criticizing the author. If you find you have space with your page requirement, you can add in the most interesting thing you found about the article, something you learned, or how it 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!