How to Write a Summary

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How do I write a summary for a biology article?

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Writing a summary of a nonfiction text in the subject content areas is an important skill to have. Once practiced and mastered, it can be helpful not only for completing specific assignments but also as a study tool. There are several points to consider when writing a summary, but the points of length, organization, and drafting are especially relevant.

First, determine a rough guideline for how long the summary should be. The length and complexity of the article chosen to summarize might provide some guidance. For example, a long, complex article may require a longer summary than a brief, simple one may justify. Writing only one good paragraph is far different from writing a 5-paragraph response, which is a common structure. Yet, a short summary of about 1-2 paragraphs should strive for more than a generic list of points. Rather, it should include the main points of the article and relative supporting details. A great rule of thumb might be to discuss one main point per paragraph, supported with relevant details.  As such, a 3-5 paragraph summary should provide more points and more details, and seek to analyze or draw simple conclusions about the material discussed.

Second, determine a structure for the summary. A good, well thought out summary should do more than regurgitate the writing of the original author, yet not provide an in-depth analysis. For example, using a Q-and-A style, discussing cause and effect, or localizing the specific work relative to similar works are all interesting approaches to summaries that engage the text beyond a simple re-write of what the author has already adequately stated. Try to think of a reaction as a reader, and use those reactions to organize thoughts as a writer without directly stating personal opinions. For example, determine and rank order thoughts about the relevance or even irrelevance of the points discussed in the article, particularly regarding the general topic.

Last, consider writing several drafts before the work is finalized and turned in. Even for a very brief summary, never shy away from the task of writing and rewriting, several times as necessary. Good luck!

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