Updated Nov 2020
What is a Research Summary and Why Is It Important?
A research summary is a type of paper designed to provide a brief overview of a given study - typically, an article from a peer-reviewed academic journal. It is a frequent type of task encountered in US colleges and universities, both in humanitarian and exact sciences, which is due to how important it is to teach students to properly interact with and interpret scientific literature and in particular, academic papers, which are the key way through which new ideas, theories, and evidence are presented to experts in many fields of knowledge. A research summary typically preserves the structure/ sections of the article it focuses on.
How to Write a Research Summary – Typical Steps
Following some clear steps helps avoiding typical mistakes and productivity bottlenecks, allowing to go more efficiently through your writing process:
- Skim the article in order to get a rough idea of the content covered in each section and to understand the relative importance of content, for instance, how important different lines of evidence are (helps you understand on which sections you should focus more when reading in detail).
- Analyze and understand the topic and article. Writing a summary of research paper involves becoming very familiar with the topic – sometimes, it is impossible to understand the content without learning about the current state of knowledge, as well as key definitions, concepts, models. This is often performed while reading the literature review. As for the paper itself, understanding it means understanding analysis questions, hypotheses, listed evidence, how strongly this evidence supports the hypotheses, as well as analysis implications. Keep in mind that only a deep understanding allows to efficiently summarize content.
- Make notes as you read. You could highlight or summarize each paragraph with a brief sentence that would record the key idea delivered in it (obviously, some paragraphs deserve more attention than others). However, be careful to not engage in extensive writing while still reading. This is important because, while reading, you might realize that some sections you initially considered important might actually be less important compared to information that follows. As for underlining or highlighting – do these only with most important evidence, otherwise, there is little use in “coloring” everything without distinction.
- Assemble a draft by bringing together key evidence and notes from each paragraph/ section. Make sure, all elements characteristic of a research summary are covered (as detailed below).
- Find additional literature for forming or supporting your critical view (this is in case your critical view/ position is required), for instance, judgments about limitations of the study or contradictory evidence.
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Research Summary Structure
The research summary format resembles that found in the original paper (just a concise version of it). Content from all sections should be covered/reflected, regardless of whether corresponding headings are present or not. Key structural elements of any research summary are as follows:
- Title – it announces the exact topic / area of analysis and can even be formulated to briefly announce key finding(s) or argument(s) delivered.
- Abstract – this is a very concise and comprehensive description of the study, present virtually in any academic article (the length varies greatly, typically within 100-500 words). Unlike an academic article, your research summary is expected to have a much shorter abstract.
- Introduction – this is an important part of any research summary which provides necessary context (the literature review) that helps introduce readers into the subject (by presenting the current state of investigation, an important concept or definition, etc.). In addition, this section might describe the subject’s importance (or might not do so, for instance, when it is very obvious). Finally, an introduction typically lists investigation questions and hypotheses advanced by authors, which are normally mentioned in detail in any research summary (obviously, doing this is only possible after identifying these elements in the original paper).
- Methodology – regardless of its location, this section details experimental methods or data analysis methods used (e.g. types of experiments, surveys, sampling, or statistical analysis). In a research summary, many of these details would have to be omitted, hence, it is important to understand what is most important to mention.
- Results section – this section lists in detail evidence obtained from all experiments with some primary data analysis, conclusions, observations, and primary interpretations being made. It is typically the largest section of any analysis paper, hence, it has to be concisely rewritten, which implies understanding which content is worth omitting and which is worth leaving.
- Discussion – this is where results are being discussed in context of current knowledge among experts. This section contains interpretations of results, theoretical models explaining the observed results, study strengths and especially limitations, complementary future exploration to be undertaken, conclusions, etc. All these are important elements that need to be conveyed in a summary.
- Conclusion – in the original article, this section could be absent or merged with “Discussion”. Specific research summary instructions might require this to be a standalone section. In a conclusion, hypotheses are revisited and validated or denied, based on how convincing the evidence is (key lines of evidence could be highlighted).
- References – this section is for mentioning those works that were cited directly in your summary – obviously, one has to provide appropriate citations at least for the original article (this often suffices). Mentioning other works might be relevant when your critical opinion is also required (supported with new unrelated evidence).
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Research Summary Writing Tips
Below is a checklist of useful research paper tips worth considering when writing research summaries:
- Make sure you are always aware of the bigger picture/ direction. You need to keep in mind a complete and coherent picture of the story delivered by the original article. It might be useful rereading it or scanning it quickly to remind yourself of the declared goals, hypotheses, key evidence, and conclusions – this awareness offers constant sense of direction, which ensures that no written sentence is out of context. It is useful doing this even after you have written a fourth, a third, or half of the paper (to make sure no deviation happens).
- Consider writing a detailed research outline before writing the draft – it might be of great use when structuring your paper. A research summary template is also very likely to help you structure your paper.
- Sketch the main elements of the conclusion before writing it. This is because a conclusion has to do a number of things: validate/invalidate hypotheses; enumerate key evidence supporting or invalidating them, list potential implications; mention the subject’s importance; mention study limitations and future directions for research. In order to include them all, it is useful having them written down and handy.
- Consider writing the introduction and discussion last. It makes sense to first list hypotheses, goals, questions, key results. Latter, information contained in introduction and discussion can be adapted as needed (for instance, to match a preset word count limit). Apart from this, follow a natural order.
- Include visuals – you could summarize a lot of text using graphs or charts and improving readability.
- Be very careful about plagiarism. It is very tempting to “borrow” or quote entire phrases from article, provided how well-written these are, but you need to summarize your paper without plagiarizing at all (forget entirely about copy-paste – it is only allowed to paraphrase and even this should be done carefully). The best way to stay safe is by formulating your own thoughts from scratch.
- Keep your word count in check. You don’t want your summary to be as long as the original paper (just reformulated). In addition, you might need to respect an imposed word count limit, which requires being careful about how much you write for each section.
- Proofread your work, for grammar, spelling, wordiness, and formatting issues (feel free to use our convert case tool to convert case for titles, headings, subheadings, etc.).
- Watch your writing style – when summarizing content, it should be impersonal, precise, and purely evidence-based. A personal view/attitude should be provided only in the critical section (if required).
- Ask a colleague to read your summary and test whether he/she could understand everything without reading the article – this will help ensure that you haven’t skipped some important content, explanations, concepts, etc.
For additional information on formatting, structure, and for more writing tips, check out these research paper guidelines on our website. Remember that we cover most research papers writing services you can imagine and can offer help at various stages of your writing project, including proofreading, editing, rewriting for plagiarism elimination, and style adjustment.
Research Summary Example 1
Below are some defining elements of a sample research summary written from an imaginary article.
Title – “The probability of an unexpected volcanic eruption in Yellowstone”
Introduction – this section would list those catastrophic consequences hitting our country in case of a massive eruption and the importance of analyzing this matter.
Hypothesis – An eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would be preceded by intense precursory activity manifesting a few weeks up to a few years in advance.
Results – these could contain a report of statistical data from multiple volcanic eruptions happening worldwide looking specifically at activity that preceded these events (in particular, how early each type of activity was detected).
Discussion and conclusion – Given that Yellowstone is continuously monitored by scientists and that signs of an eruption are normally detected much in advance and at least a few days in advance, the hypothesis is confirmed. This could find application in creating emergency plans detailing an organized evacuation campaign and other response measures.
Research Summary Example 2
Below is another sample sketch, also from an imaginary article.
Title – “The frequency of extreme weather events in US in 2000-2008 as compared to the ‘50s”
Introduction – Weather events bring immense material damage and cause human victims.
Hypothesis – Extreme weather events are significantly more frequent nowadays than in the ‘50s
Results – these could list the frequency of several categories of extreme events now and then: droughts and associated fires, massive rainfall/snowfall and associated floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, arctic cold waves, etc.
Discussion and conclusion – Several types of extreme events indeed became significantly more frequent recently, confirming this hypothesis. This increasing frequency correlates reliably with rising CO2 levels in atmosphere and growing temperatures worldwide and in the absence of another recent major global change that could explain a higher frequency of disasters but also knowing how growing temperature disturbs weather patterns, it is natural to assume that global warming (CO2) causes this increase in frequency. This, in turn, suggests that this increased frequency of disasters is not a short-term phenomenon but is here to stay until we address CO2 levels.
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