A quick guide on how to write a research paper summary

by Madhura Panse
Journal submission: Tips to submit better manuscripts | Paperpal

One of the most important skills you can imbibe as an academician is to master the art of writing a research paper summary. During your academic journey, you may need to write a summary of findings in research quite often and for varied reasons – be it to write an introduction for a peer-reviewed publication, to submit a critical review, or to simply create a useful database for future referencing.  

It can be quite challenging to effectively write a research paper summary for often complex work, which is where a pre-determined workflow can help you optimize the process. Investing time in developing this skill can also help you improve your scientific acumen, increasing your efficiency and productivity at work. This article illustrates some useful advice on how to write a research summary effectively. But, what is research summary in the first place?  

A research paper summary is a crisp, comprehensive overview of a research paper, which encapsulates the purpose, findings, methods, conclusions, and relevance of a study. A well-written research paper summary is an indicator of how well you have understood the author’s work. 

Writing a good research paper summary comes with practice and skill. Here is some useful advice on how to write a research paper summary effectively.  

1. Determine the focus of your summary 

Before you begin to write a summary of research papers, determine the aim of your research paper summary. This will give you more clarity on how to summarize a research paper, including what to highlight and where to find the information you need, which accelerates the entire process. If you are aiming for the summary to be a supporting document or a proof of principle for your current research findings, then you can look for elements that are relevant to your work.

On the other hand, if your research summary is intended to be a critical review of the research article, you may need to use a completely different lens while reading the paper and conduct your own research regarding the accuracy of the data presented. Then again, if the research summary is intended to be a source of information for future referencing, you will likely have a different approach. This makes determining the focus of your summary a key step in the process of writing an effective research paper summary. 

2. Invest enough time to understand the topic deeply 

In order to author an effective research paper summary, you need to dive into the topic of the research article. Begin by doing a quick scan for relevant information under each section of the paper. The abstract is a great starting point as it helps you to quickly identify the top highlights of the research article, speeding up the process of understanding the key findings in the paper. Be sure to do a careful read of the research paper, preparing notes that describe each section in your own words to put together a summary of research example or a first draft. This will save your time and energy in revisiting the paper to confirm relevant details and ease the entire process of writing a research paper summary.

When reading papers, be sure to acknowledge and ignore any pre-conceived notions that you might have regarding the research topic. This will not only help you understand the topic better but will also help you develop a more balanced perspective, ensuring that your research paper summary is devoid of any personal opinions or biases. 

3. Keep the summary crisp, brief and engaging 

A research paper summary is usually intended to highlight and explain the key points of any study, saving the time required to read through the entire article. Thus, your primary goal while compiling the summary should be to keep it as brief, crisp and readable as possible. Usually, a short introduction followed by 1-2 paragraphs is adequate for an effective research article summary. Avoid going into too much technical detail while describing the main results and conclusions of the study. Rather focus on connecting the main findings of the study to the hypothesis, which can make the summary more engaging. For example, instead of simply reporting an original finding – “the graph showed a decrease in the mortality rates…”, you can say, “there was a decline in the number of deaths, as predicted by the authors while beginning the study…” or “there was a decline in the number of deaths, which came as a surprise to the authors as this was completely unexpected…”.

Unless you are writing a critical review of the research article, the language used in your research paper summaries should revolve around reporting the findings, not assessing them. On the other hand, if you intend to submit your summary as a critical review, make sure to provide sufficient external evidence to support your final analysis. Invest sufficient time in editing and proofreading your research paper summary thoroughly to ensure you’ve captured the findings accurately. You can also get an external opinion on the preliminary draft of the research paper summary from colleagues or peers who have not worked on the research topic. 

Mistakes to avoid while writing your research paper summary 

Now that you’ve understood how to summarize a research paper, watch out for these red flags while writing your summary. 

  • Not paying attention to the word limit and recommended format, especially while submitting a critical review 
  • Evaluating the findings instead of maintaining an objective, unbiased view while reading the research paper 
  • Skipping the essential editing step, which can help eliminate avoidable errors and ensure that the language does not misrepresent the findings 
  • Plagiarism, it is critical to write in your own words or paraphrase appropriately when reporting the findings in your scientific article summary 

We hope the recommendations listed above will help answer the question of how to summarize a research paper and enable you to tackle the process effectively. 

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