SUMMARISING SOURCE MATERIAL
The process of summarising a given source can be seen as a precursor to synthesising source materials. The summarisation process (which can be seen as part of the critique/review process) has two key elements: (A) reading and note-taking and (B), the drafting and writing up of the summary:
PART A: Reading and note-taking
- The research question and reason for the study (this should be stated in the “Introduction”)
- The hypothesis or hypotheses tested (this should be set out in the “Introduction”)
- How the hypothesis was tested (this should be covered in the “Methodology and Methods”)
The findings (“Results”, including Tables and Figures)
How the findings were interpreted (this should be sect out in the “Discussion” and/or the “Conclusion”)
Although the abstract can help you to identify the main points, you cannot rely on it exclusively, because it contains highly condensed information.
Underline or highlight key sentences or write the key point (e.g., hypothesis, design) of each paragraph in the margins of the paper.
After you have highlighted the main points, read each section several times. As you read, ask yourself:
|A.||0||How does the design of the study address the question posed?|
|A.||0||What are the controls for each experiment?|
|A.||0||How convincing are the findings and/or results? (Do you think they are valid, reliable and representative?)|
|A.||0||What does this study contribute toward answering the original question?|
|A.||1||What aspects of the original question remain unanswered?|
As you know, plagiarism is always a risk when summarising other people’s work. If you find yourself sticking closely to the original language and making only minor changes to the wording, then perhaps you do not fully understand it (don’t worry, just re-read it!)
|A.||1||Take notes in your own words. Avoid copying complete sentences when note-taking.|
|A.||1||Summarise points, wherever you can, in your own words.|
PART B: Drafting and writing the summary
Like an abstract in a published research article, the purpose of your summary is to give the reader a brief, structured overview of the source material. To write a good summary, identify what information is important and condense that information for your reader. The better you understand the subject and ideas set out in the source material, the easier it is to explain it comprehensively, clearly and concisely.
Write a first draft. It may be a good idea to use the same order as the author/s of the source material did. The number of suggested sentences is only a rough guideline for the relative length of each section. Adjust the length accordingly depending on the significance of the source to your DBA’s guiding research question/s.
- State the research question and explain why it is interesting (1 sentence).
- State the hypothesis/hypotheses tested (1 sentence).
- Briefly describe the methods, the design, sample, materials, procedure, what was manipulated
- [independent variables], what was measured [dependent variables], how it was analysed (2-3 sentences).
- Describe the results. What differences were significant? (2-3 sentences).
- Explain the key implications of the results. (1 sentence).
- How did the author/s interpret these results? Do you agree with their interpretation? (1 sentence).
The results, and the interpretation of the results, should relate directly to the hypothesis.
The methods summary is often the most difficult part to edit.
For the first draft, focus on content, not length (it will probably be too long). Condense later as needed. Try writing about the hypotheses, methods and results first, then about the introduction and discussion last. If you have trouble on one section, leave it for a while and try another.
Edit for completeness and accuracy. Add information for completeness where necessary. More commonly, if you understand the article, you will need to cut redundant or less important information. Stay focused on the
research question and, try to be concise.
Use academic English however, do not make it in any way difficult for readers to understand what you write:
- Include all the important details; it is important not to assume that your readers will already understand
- the given argument.
- Remove unnecessary words: “The results clearly showed that there was no difference between the
- groups” can be shortened to “There was no significant difference between the groups.”
- Use specific, concrete language. Use precise language and cite specific examples to support assertions.
- Avoid vague references (e.g. “this illustrates” should be “this result illustrates”). Use scientifically accurate language. For example, you cannot “prove” hypotheses (especially with just one study). You “support” or “fail to find support for” them.
- 1 Rely primarily on paraphrasing, direct quotes are seldom used in scientific writing.
Re-read what you have written, preferably a day or so after you have finished typing it up — re-reading with fresh eyes is key to producing a good summary.
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