How-to-Summarize-a-Research-Paper

How to Summarize a Research Paper

Research papers…the cornerstone of modern technology development. These are academic write-ups that provide some technical knowledge. Typically, this knowledge is either new or provides new insights about existing works and technology. 

Research papers benefit the world and pave the way for our future. They are also a ticket to fame and fortune. So, there are many reasons why academics write research papers. Now, let’s take a look at summaries.

A summary is a short/concise version of a text that only contains the key points. Most of the details (unnecessary ones) are removed and the resultant text is much easier to read. Summaries are an important part of research paper writing. They are also very useful in general academics.  

Now, let’s take a look at why summarizing is important for research papers. We will also look at why you would need to summarize the research paper itself. Following that we will teach you how to summarize a research paper as well as provide some tips for doing it better.

Why is it Important to Summarize a Research Paper?

Let’s start with why it is so important to summarize a research paper. We can rephrase this as “Why would you need to summarize a research paper?” The reasons are provided below. 

  1. To Use for Citations

Most research done nowadays is not entirely new. It reuses parts of other people’s works and builds upon them. As such, a single research paper has to cite many others because not doing so would count as plagiarism which is practically a death sentence in the academic world.

Now you can’t just use an entire research paper when you are citing it right? You have to use just the parts that are relevant to your discussion. Summarizing them and using them for in-text citations is the way to go. It saves your readers’ time and helps them understand the context as well. That’s why summarizing research papers is important. 

  1. To Use in the Literature Review

A literature review is a write-up by a scholar on the work of another scholar. It aims to demonstrate that the former has a good understanding of the latter’s work and can build upon it effectively.

There are two common types of literature reviews. One is a dedicated piece covering one or more publications in detail. The other is a much more concise chapter in a research paper or thesis that covers all the literature that the authors drew inspiration from during their research. 

The second type is where you need a lot of summarizing. A typical research paper has anywhere from 10 or 20 references to upwards of 50. According to Quantifyinghealth.com, research papers usually have any number of references between 8 and 102

That is a lot of work that needs to be covered in the “Literature Review” section of a single research paper. However, you can summarize the findings of each paper in one or two paragraphs to make sure that the write-up does not become too long. This also helps the readers understand the findings of those papers and see how they fit in the context of your paper.

Without summarization, just one section of your paper would be longer than all of the rest combined. 

  1. To Memorize its Contents

College students and undergraduates have to do small research-based assignments throughout their degree programs. Typically, they have to do at least one research-based task per semester (usually the semester project). 

Some professors like to do things a little differently though. In normal circumstances, most students don’t deal with research papers before college. So, there is some confusion when they have to write their academic articles and assignments using citations from other works and stuff. 

To familiarize students with research papers, some professors provide them with one paper and tell them to study it as they will be quizzed on it later. To ace such quizzes the students must summarize the paper and memorize it. 

Memorization of papers through summarization also helps with doing your research. When you have a lot of knowledge on hand (in your brain), it becomes easy to connect the dots and see the relations between different topics. As such scientific breakthroughs become easier.

  1. To Create its Abstracts, Discussion, And Conclusion Sections

Previously, we discussed how most research papers have a “Literature Review” section. This section summarizes the works of other people. However, a research paper has at least three other sections in which its summary is required. 

They are called the Abstract, Discussion, and Conclusion sections. These are parts of a paper that cover what will be discussed in the paper, the results, and findings, and what those findings imply respectively. 

By creating the summary of your paper, you can alter it to fit all of these sections and keep them short. Without a summary though, you will be hard-pressed to write these sections. That’s why summarizing a research paper is so important.

Types of Summaries 

Now that we know why we should summarize research papers, the next logical step is to look at the types of summaries. There are two major types of summaries. They are called Abstractive and Extractive. Let’s see what their differences are, and which one is better for summarizing research papers. 

1. Abstractive Summaries

Let us look at abstractive summaries first. An abstractive summary is one where the wording and phraseology of the summary are different from the source material. In simpler words, we can say that paraphrasing has been employed in the summary writing process.

That is an abstract summary. Another way to say it would be that you write the summary in your own words. Writing this type of summary is more intellectually engaging and requires that you understand the topic thoroughly. 

Just the mere act of writing an abstract summary is enough to boost your comprehension of the topics you are summarizing. 

The image below shows an example of an abstractive summary created with a text summarizer.

2. Extractive Summaries

An extractive summary is one where you use the same words and phraseology as that present in the source material. In this type of summary, you pluck out sentences that best describe the key points of the topic and use them as is to create your summary. 

This type of summarization is not as intellectually engaging as abstractive ones. However, they are easy to create and don’t require an extremely high level of understanding.

Here is an image that shows what an extractive summary generated by a text summarizer looks like.

How to Summarize a Research Paper?

As you can see the same sentences that were present in the source have been reused to create the summary.

Which Type of Summary is More Suitable for Summarizing Research Papers?

So, which type of summary is better when summarizing a research paper? The answer is an abstract summary. Why? Well, the reasons are as follows.

  • With abstractive summaries, you do not have to use excessive quotations. Research papers look bad if there are too many quotes in them. Since extractive summaries use sentences verbatim, they have to be quoted. Abstractive summaries only need to be cited and not quoted which makes them better for summarizing research.
  • Since abstractive summaries are more intellectually engaging and boost comprehension they are better suited for summarizing research. Research papers require a good understanding of the subject matter, and abstractive summaries are good for that, so they are better.
  • Abstractive summaries have the freedom to make things smaller than extractive summaries because they are not limited concerning wording and vocabulary. You can make a sentence shorter by replacing phrases with words and removing anything excessive.

These are the core advantages of abstractive summaries over extractive ones. They are also what makes the former more suitable for summarizing research. The only downside is that you need to be good at English (or whatever language the paper you are summarizing is in) to create good abstractive summaries.

How to Summarize A Research Paper

Now, let us get to the main part, the entire reason you are here; how to create a summary of a research paper. It is a straightforward process and simpler than you would think. Let us get into it.

1. Read the Paper In its Entirety

First things first, you have to read the paper that you want to summarize. At this point, you should not be worrying about whether you can understand the paper or not. All you should be concerned about is reading the paper.

Of course, this does not mean that you turn your brain off and don’t even try to understand anything. It only means that you don’t ponder over the stuff you didn’t understand. The point of this preliminary reading is to get your bearings and figure out the flow of the paper. 

What kind of overarching topics are being discussed and what is the chain in which sub-topics are introduced? For example, in a research paper about IoT(Internet of Things) network security, the overarching topic is network security. Then it will typically lead into what is IoT and what are the nuances and intricacies of IoT networks that separate them from standard networks. 

So, this is the kind of flow you are looking for.

2. Note Down or Highlight Important Information

Your next step is to read the paper again and note down important information. You can do that by either highlighting stuff or simply noting it down. We suggest that you use some digital methods of note-keeping because they are easily searchable and indexable.

Of course, we also recommend that the research paper you are summarizing also be in a digital form because it is easier to highlight things in this form. You can also add comments and notes right on the digital file without actually changing anything. 

These useful features help you focus on the task without having to go between your notepad and research paper copy over and over.

However, some people can focus better if they are dealing with physical copies. If you are one of them, then use paper media to create your notes. 

3. Take a Break and Ruminate Over the Information

Once all the notes have been taken and the paper has been read, just take a break. Don’t start on the summary right away. Give yourself time to digest the information. This break can be as little as 15 minutes short or as long as a few hours or even a day. 

Taking a small nap can be beneficial since your mind processes and organizes a lot of information during sleep. It can help you understand the paper much better. 

After you have taken a break, start going over your summary notes and just create a flow of information in your mind. Take your notes and organize them in a logical order. See if everything makes sense.

Are there any gaps in the knowledge? Do you feel as if something is missing? If yes, then go back to the paper and find that information. Include it in your notes and put it in the proper place.

Once you have done all of that, you are ready to create your summary. 

4. Write The Summary Using Your Notes and Understanding of the Topic

At this point you have your notes, you have your understanding of the paper, and you have created the flow of logic in your mind. All that is left is to write the summary using these things.

We suggest you start by simply copying the points you have noted down as a preliminary summary. Yes, we know that is an extractive summary, but don’t worry, you will paraphrase it soon. 

Read the extractive summary to ensure that it is correct and covers all the points. Then, you need to rewrite the summary in your own words (i.e., the abstractive summary). It helps to keep everything formatted as bullet points rather than paragraphs because it is more readable and scannable.

5. Proofread and Compare with the Original

Once you have created your summary you have to proofread it. During the proofreading session, you want to check for the following things:

  • Grammar errors
  • Difficult sentences
  • Incorrect facts
  • Gaps in information (if any still exist)
  • The flow of information (is it logically correct?)

To find gaps in information and incorrect facts you have to compare the summary to the research paper. Find and match all the points you wrote in the research paper. If you can’t find a point, then that means it is either incorrect or there is something else that is missing.

Reading the summary aloud helps a lot with proofreading. Getting someone else to read the summary and asking them if they understood is also good. These methods help you to find issues more efficiently.

Tips for Summarizing a Research Paper

Here are some tips to improve your summarizing skills. 

1. Practice with Sample Papers

Before summarizing a research paper take the time to practice first. There are plenty of websites and platforms available that provide free sample research papers that you can practice summarizing. 

The summaries of sample papers also exist already, so, you will have a good reference point for checking the accuracy of your summaries. 

Practicing will improve the speed at which you can summarize a text. If you practice long enough, you will be able to summarize papers without even having to follow all the steps that we listed in the previous section.

2. Have Someone Check Your Summaries and Provide Feedback

Your summaries may have issues that may be invisible to you. This is something common and nothing to be afraid of. All you need to do is to get someone else to check your summary. A colleague, classmate, or senior can help you with this.

They can tell you if your summary seems lacking in some way. They can also tell you the best way to address that problem. The most important issue they can highlight is the difficulty of understanding. 

Summaries are tools for improving understanding not limiting it, so, fixing that issue will dramatically improve your summary. 

3. Improve Your Paraphrasing Skills For Abstractive Summaries 

Abstractive summaries require paraphrasing, so improving your paraphrasing skills is a great idea. Since paraphrasing also helps with improving your comprehension, it is better if you polish those skills. 

You can practice with online exercises and quizzes and just increase your general reading time to familiarize yourself with more vocabulary.

4. Use Online Tools for Summary Writing

Summary writing can be tedious, but you can get help from an online text summarizer if you want. A text summarizer is a tool that can automatically create a summary of any given text.

Some tools are abstractive summarizers, some are extractive, and others provide both options. Using such tools you can create summaries quickly and easily. However, relying on them is not good. 

You can only use them in an assistive way i.e., getting a head start on the summarizing process and supplementing their results yourself. That is the best way to use a text summarizer. 

5. Consult Reference Materials and Style Guides Before Summarization

If you are summarizing a research paper due to an assignment, then you must consult all reference materials and study guides provided by your professor or institute. This is to make sure that you are writing the summary according to the guidelines. 

Not following the guidelines will result in a bad score on your assignment. If you are unsure about whether there are any guidelines or not, it is better to consult your professor to clear your doubts. 

Some Tools for Online Summary Writing

If you are pressed for time or are having trouble with summarizing research papers yourself, here are a few text summarizers that can help you.

  1. Summarizer.org

This is a freemium summarizer that can create accurate summaries. It has two modes, one free and one paid. The free mode is quite good. It creates extractive summaries. Most of the time you won’t need to use the premium mode which creates abstractive summaries. Below is an image that shows the results of this tool.

  1. Grammarly

Grammarly is a big name in the content optimization industry due to its amazing grammar checker. They also have a free summarizer. This is an abstractive summarizer, and it lets you select the tone of the summary. Below is an image showing the summary of the introduction of this article in an academic tone.

Conclusion

Summarizing a research paper is a task that many academics have to do. In this article, we discussed why it is important to summarize research papers, what are some types of summaries and how to write a summary. We also provided some tips on improving your summaries. After reading this article, you should be able to summarize a research paper yourself.

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