Summarizing Journal Articles

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Summarizing Journal Articles’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version/bank in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

  • However, please note that there are no version 3 POST-CLASS activities for this unit.
  • For this unit only, instructors can use either version 2 or version 3 PRE-CLASS activities in tandem with the version 2 POST-CLASS activities.

Summarizing Journal Articles: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint version), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.


Activity 1 (work together, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 15 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1. Once the 10-minute time limit has passed, you can show the fourth, fifth and sixth slides of the PowerPoint and discuss the solutions with the students for ~ 5 minutes.


Activity 2 (work together, 5 minutes, total time elapsed = 20 min)

You should allow 5 minutes for students to complete Activity 2.

* Please note that this activity requires students to talk about material they must have brought with them from the pre-class activity set. If students have not completed the pre-class activities, they will not have a summary to talk about with a partner. In this instance, ask these students to join other groups and wait to give feedback on the summaries written by other people in Activity 3. This will still allow them to be part of these activities (they just won’t receive any feedback on a summary they have written).


Activity 3 (work together, 15 min, total time elapsed = 35 min)

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 3. * This is the point where students who did not bring a summary can give feedback to people who did. They can still get something from these in-class activities by doing this. *


Activity 4 (work alone, 10 min (or however much time is remaining), total time elapsed = 45 min)

This time can be used for students to begin improving their summaries based on peer feedback. A similar question appears in the post-class activities, so it will allow them to get a start on that one.

* Please note, if you would like students to hand in something at the end of the session, you could either ask them to hand in their answers to Activity 1 (dealing with when to include specifics in article summaries), or you could ask them to hand in the feedback they gave to their partners in Activity 3. If you decide to do the latter, perhaps ask them to make a copy for themselves so that they can take away feedback to help them on the post-class assignment. *

Version 1

Summarizing Journal Articles: Student Pre-Class Activities

Summarizing information is one of the most important skills to learn. Turning complex material into a form that makes it more readable for others requires similar skills to paraphrasing and using quotations effectively. However, there are some subtle but very important differences. These pre-class activities have been designed to give you practice in distinguishing these, as well as ensuring you write a summary of a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you. You must bring your summary and the journal article to the in-class activities for this writing skills unit.

You may have already learned how to paraphrase material from its source by making it more concise and putting it into your own words. When writing a summary, you should do exactly the same thing, except you should make it considerably shorter than its original form and focus only on the very important information. When you work with scientific journal articles, it can be initially difficult to distinguish which pieces of information are very important from those that are less important, because every article contains so much information. These activities should help you develop strategies for making this distinction.

The Key Elements

Every journal article is different, but as a general guide, you should read each one and make notes with the following questions in mind:

  1. What problem/question does this research consider?
  2. Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
  3. What methods were used (in general)?
  4. What were the main findings?
  5. What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 (2 marks each, 10 marks total)

For each of the following five questions, you will need to refer to the fictional abstract that appears below (it is deliberately not concise and features complex words and jargon that would be typical of a journal abstract). When you summarize an article, it is important that you read the whole article (and not just the abstract), but for this exercise, a smaller body of text will be sufficient. As you read it, try to think about what the really important information is.

We conducted a 261-day research project to assess whether there was a link between exam performance in science courses and the happiness of students in these courses. We used the responses of 1,046 undergraduate students, who volunteered and were from different economic and social backgrounds, to answer this research question. Students were asked to answer a 15-question survey that had been previously validated by other researchers, and was therefore reliable, immediately after sitting their final exam in a science communication course. Survey questions were comprised of statements about happiness and wellbeing, such as: “I wake up feeling positive every morning,” and “I laugh at least 10 times a day,”. Students then had the option of answering these questions on a five-point Likert scale (with 1 representing ‘strongly disagree’ and 5 representing ‘strongly agree’). We split students into three groups based on their exam scores; one group contained students that scored As, one contained students that scored Bs and Cs, and one contained students that scored Ds or lower. We then took averages of questionnaire responses from these students and ran Bonferroni-corrected T-tests to ascertain whether there were significant differences between groups. We found that there was no difference in happiness between students that scored As and those that scored Bs and Cs (T=1.17, p=0.39), but students that scored Ds or lower were less happy than students in the other two groups (T=3.91, p=0.003, and T=4.71, p=0.0007). Social science researchers had long wondered whether students’ perceived happiness is affected by their exam performance but no studies had previously sought to address this conundrum experimentally. We propose that happiness is directly affected by exam performance in undergraduate science students, but that this is only true when students achieve grades of D or less. Students that achieve Cs or above, traditionally seen as passing grades, do not appear to be affected by the extent to which they differ from their peers, so long as they also achieve Cs or above. As a next step, we would like to devise experiments to tease apart the cause and effect relationship here; we still do not know whether students perform less well on exams because they are unhappy in other areas of their lives, or if students are unhappy because they perform less well than they hope on these exams.

Now, for the following five questions, copy and paste the complete sentence in the abstract that contains the answer (1 mark). Then, try to summarize this information for each question by writing it in your own words. Write it more concisely and use less specific detail (1 mark). Hint: Think hard about whether you need specific information to provide an accurate summary answer to each question and do not include it if it is unnecessary. We have not worked with interpreting statistics before, but in most circumstances (such as this one) you can assume it is safe not to include specific numbers, but you should say whether or not the statistics provided evidence for any conclusions made by the authors.

* As you work through questions 1 - 5, keep a copy of your answers in another file. You will need to paste the combined answers into Connect for Question 6. *

Q1: What problem/question does this research consider?
Q2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
Q3: What methods were used (in general)?
Q4: What were the main findings?
Q5: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

Question 6 (5 marks)

Imagine that you have summarized 10 papers in the same way as you have just done for the fictional abstract above, and that you now want to summarize everything into one piece of writing (perhaps you were writing a review of all the studies that relate to happiness and academic performance, for example). This will mean summarizing everything again, which means removing any information from each one that is not vital or very interesting.

Copy and paste all your summarized answers to questions 1 – 5 together to form one summary paragraph. When you read it, this might seem as though you have paraphrased rather than summarized the material. To rectify this, re-write your summary more succinctly (1 mark). Try to remove any redundant or uninteresting information (2 marks), and make sure it all transitions smoothly from sentence to sentence (2 marks). Hint: You might wish to re-order the sentences to make the summary more interesting and/or succinct. We have not worked with interpreting statistics before, but in most circumstances (such as this one) you can assume it is safe not to include specific numbers, but you should say whether or not the statistics provided evidence for any conclusions made by the authors.

Question 7 (5 marks)

Try to summarize a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you (this can be from any scientific discipline). In your summary, try to answer the five questions that appear in the ‘key elements’ section (above). Most importantly, try to write no more than 250 words, but do not worry too much about style just now. Although the content is very important, you will not be graded on this aspect yet.

* When you have completed your summary, copy and paste it and include a word count. Make sure you also save a copy for yourself. You will need to (1) print this, along with (2) a copy of the peer-reviewed journal article you used, and bring them both with you to participate in the in-class activities. In these activities, you will work with a partner to improve your summaries in terms of content and style. *

Version 2

Summarizing Journal Articles: Student Pre-Class Activities

Summarizing information is one of the most important skills to learn. Turning complex material into a form that makes it more readable for others requires similar skills to paraphrasing and using quotations effectively. However, there are some subtle but very important differences. These pre-class activities have been designed to give you practice in distinguishing these, as well as ensuring you write a summary of a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you. You must bring your summary and the journal article to the in-class activities for this writing skills unit.

You may have already learned how to paraphrase material from its source by making it more concise and putting it into your own words. When writing a summary, you should do exactly the same thing, except you should make it considerably shorter than its original form and focus only on the very important information. When you work with scientific journal articles, it can be initially difficult to distinguish which pieces of information are very important from those that are less important, because every article contains so much information. These activities should help you develop strategies for making this distinction.

The Key Elements

Every journal article is different, but as a general guide, you should read each one and make notes with the following questions in mind:

  1. What problem/question does this research consider?
  2. Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
  3. What did the researchers predict?
  4. What methods were used (in general)?
  5. What were the main findings?
  6. What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (2 marks each, 12 marks total)

For each of the following six questions, you will need to refer to a modified abstract that appears below (it is deliberately not written concisely). When you summarize an article, it is important that you read the whole article (and not just the abstract), but for this exercise, a smaller body of text will be sufficient. As you read it, try to think about what the really important information is.

In the ability and motivation to copy others, social learning has been shown to provide a mechanism for the inheritance of behavioural traditions, yet major questions remain about the circumstances and models that shape such social learning. Here, we tested the hypothesis that young monkeys would learn feeding techniques by watching other monkeys of indiscriminate descent eat these foods. Contrary to expectations, our results demonstrate that behavioural food-processing variants among wild vervet monkey, Chlorocebus aethiops, infants solely followed their mothers’ examples in their embryonic manipulative approaches to a new foraging problem. In our field experiment, grapes covered with sand were provisioned within groups of wild vervet monkeys that included experienced adults and 17 naïve infants. Monkeys dealt with the dirty food in four different ways but all infants first adopted their mother's way of handling the grapes, rather than those of other mothers or other monkeys eating nearby (χ²=18.41, p=<0.001), and mothers who handled grapes in different ways had infants who were more likely to explore different approaches to handle the sandy grapes. Our findings suggest a capacity for detailed copying by infants of their mothers' and matriline members' food-processing techniques when encountering new foods, underlining the significance of familial models in such primate social groups.

Now, for the following six questions, copy and paste the complete sentence in the abstract that contains the answer (1 mark). Then, try to summarize this information for each question by writing it in your own words. Write it more concisely and use less specific detail (1 mark). Hint: Think hard about whether you need specific information to provide an accurate summary answer to each question and do not include it if it is unnecessary.

* As you work through questions 1 - 6, keep a copy of your answers in another file. You will need to paste the combined answers into a summary for Question 7. *

Q1: What problem/question does this research consider?
Q2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
Q3: What did the researchers predict?
Q4: What methods were used (in general)?
Q5: What were the main findings?
Q6: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

Question 7 (4 marks)

Imagine that you have summarized 10 papers in the same way as you have just done for the fictional abstract above, and that you now want to summarize everything into one piece of writing. This will mean summarizing everything again, which means removing any information from each one that is not vital or very interesting.

Copy and paste all of your answers to questions 1 – 6 together to form one summary paragraph. When you read it, this might seem as though you have paraphrased rather than summarized the material. To rectify this, re-write your summary more succinctly to remove any redundant or uninteresting information (2 marks), and to make sure it transitions more smoothly from sentence to sentence (2 marks). Hint: You might wish to re-order the sentences to make the summary more interesting, and/or remove any lingering specifics that are not needed to get the important messages across, as well as adding a sentence at the end to state the wider implications of the study and its findings.

Question 8 (4 marks)

Try to summarize a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you (this can be from any scientific discipline). In your summary, try to answer the six questions that appear in the ‘key elements’ section (above). Most importantly, try to write no more than 250 words, but do not worry too much about style just now. Although the content is very important, you will not be graded on this aspect yet.

* When you have completed your summary, copy and paste it and include a word count. Make sure you also save a copy for yourself. You will need to (1) print this, along with (2) a copy of the peer-reviewed journal article you used, and bring them both with you to participate in the in-class activities. In these activities, you will work with a partner to improve your summaries in terms of content and style. *

Version 3

Summarizing Journal Articles: Student Pre-Class Activities

Summarizing information is one of the most important skills to learn. Turning complex material into a form that makes it more readable for others requires similar skills to paraphrasing and using quotations effectively. However, there are some subtle but very important differences. These pre-class activities have been designed to give you practice in distinguishing these, as well as ensuring you write a summary of a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you. You must bring your summary and the journal article to the in-class activities for this writing skills unit.

You may have already learned how to paraphrase material from its source by making it more concise and putting it into your own words. When writing a summary, you should do exactly the same thing, except you should make it considerably shorter than its original form and focus only on the very important information. When you work with scientific journal articles, it can be initially difficult to distinguish which pieces of information are very important from those that are less important, because every article contains so much information. These activities should help you develop strategies for making this distinction.

The Key Elements

Every journal article is different, but as a general guide, you should read each one and make notes with the following questions in mind:

  1. What problem/question does this research consider?
  2. Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
  3. What did the researchers predict?
  4. What methods were used (in general)?
  5. What were the main findings?
  6. What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (2 marks each, 12 marks total)

For each of the following six questions, you will need to refer to the fictional abstract that appears below (it is deliberately not concise). When you summarize an article, it is important that you read the whole article (and not just the abstract), but for this exercise, a smaller body of text will be sufficient. As you read it, try to think about what the really important information is.

We conducted a 12-week research project to assess whether mice that had been raised in different conditions were affected by noise levels when they were moved to different regions. Mice are excellent model mammal organisms for such research because they are hardy and readily accessible, as opposed to the endangered mammals that such research should benefit in the future. It has been argued that raising threatened mammals (such as the white-footed ferret) in quiet areas in captivity and then releasing them into the wild is a fruitless pursuit if the areas they are given their freedom in are particularly noisy, because the animals typically move to other areas to avoid unfamiliar noise (and often die in that endeavour). We measured mouse heart rate in different noise situations after they had been raised in either quiet (n=451) or noisy environments (n=378). We also captured them 12 weeks after their release and tracked the distance they moved from their initial point of release in each environment (km). To our surprise, we found that there was no difference in heart rate response as a result of the conditions in which mice had been raised (t-test, T= 4.37, p=0.31). Again, surprisingly, there was also no difference in response in terms of distance travelled from the point of release as a result of the conditions in which mice had been raised (t-test, T=3.71, p=0.14). As expected, we did however find a significant difference between the distance travelled from the point of release when all data were grouped (t-test, T=6.71, p=0.02) so that the noise level of the environment in which they were released was compared. Mice moved further from the point of release when they were released in noisy areas compared to quiet ones. There was no correlation between mouse sex or size and distance travelled from the point of release (r=0.15, p =0.43, and r=-.09, p=0.56 respectively). We advise all conservation efforts to be considered on a case-by-case basis, but suggest that noise itself is likely to cause released individuals to move large distances to seek quieter habitats, regardless of the conditions in which they were raised. For this reason, we advise people to only release animals in quiet habitats.

Now, for the following six questions, copy and paste the complete sentence in the abstract that contains the answer (1 mark). Then, try to summarize this information for each question by writing it in your own words. Write it more concisely and use less specific detail (1 mark). Hint: Think hard about whether you need specific information to provide an accurate summary answer to each question and do not include it if it is unnecessary.

* As you work through questions 1 - 6, keep a copy of your answers in another file. You will need to paste the combined answers into Connect for Question 7. *

Q1: What problem/question does this research consider?
Q2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
Q3: What did the researchers predict?
Q4: What methods were used (in general)?
Q5: What were the main findings?
Q6: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

Question 7 (4 marks)

Imagine that you have summarized 10 papers in the same way as you have just done for the fictional abstract above, and that you now want to summarize everything into one piece of writing. This will mean summarizing everything again, which means removing any information from each one that is not vital or very interesting.

Copy and paste all of your answers to questions 1 – 6 together to form one summary paragraph. When you read it, this might seem as though you have paraphrased rather than summarized the material. To rectify this, re-write your summary more succinctly to remove any redundant or uninteresting information (2 marks), and to make sure it transitions more smoothly from sentence to sentence (2 marks). Hint: You might wish to re-order the sentences to make the summary more interesting, and/or remove any lingering specifics that are not needed to get the important messages across, as well as adding a sentence at the end to state the wider implications of the study and its findings.

Question 8 (4 marks)

Try to summarize a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you (this can be from any scientific discipline). In your summary, try to answer the six questions that appear in the ‘key elements’ section (above). Most importantly, try to write no more than 250 words, but do not worry too much about style just now. Although the content is very important, you will not be graded on this aspect yet.

* When you have completed your summary, copy and paste it and include a word count. Make sure you also save a copy for yourself. You will need to (1) print this, along with (2) a copy of the peer-reviewed journal article you used, and bring them both with you to participate in the in-class activities. In these activities, you will work with a partner to improve your summaries in terms of content and style. *

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1, Version 2, and Version 3 Solutions

Summarizing Journal Articles: Student In-Class Activities

These in-class activities will build on those you completed in the pre-class set; you will gain practice in deciding what makes certain pieces of specific information worthy of inclusion in summaries (or not), before turning your attention to improving (in a more general sense) the summary of a journal article that you wrote in the pre-class activities.

Activity 1 (work together, 10 minutes)

Recall that when you summarize a journal article (or any scientific document), you should only focus on reporting the really important information. However, it can be hard to know when to incorporate specifics into a summary. Although it is easy to rephrase jargon into words that any audience will understand, it can be hard to know when you should include statistics, dates, or measures etc. As a general guide, when deciding whether to include such specific information, ask yourself two questions:

Would leaving this information out…

  1. Lead to a biased interpretation of the original article?
  2. Make it hard for readers to understand what the original article showed?

If you are preparing your summary for a general audience and the answer to these questions is ‘no’, then you should leave out the specific information.

To get some practice in deciding whether to include specifics, read the following three sentences below (all taken from a fictional journal article). The specifics in question are bolded for you. Your task is to decide whether to include them (Yes/No), before re-writing the sentences in your own words to summarize the content succinctly.

Sentence 1: We used Michaelson XF-550 outdoor aviary cages to house the parrots that we used in our voice recognition study.

Sentence 2: We devised three treatment groups to allow us to compare recognition success rate under different circumstances: one included parrots (n=310) exposed to their owners’ voices every day, one included parrots (n=17) exposed to unfamiliar voices every day, and one included parrots (n=308) that were not exposed to any voices.

Sentence 3: We found that parrots exposed to their owners’ voices every day were significantly more successful at recognizing their owners’ in crowded rooms (Tukey’s HSD = 34.71, p = 0.02) than in either of the other groups, which did not differ significantly (Tukey’s HSD = 1.71, p = 0.42).

* Please note there will be a brief class discussion about the sentences above before you move on to Activity 2 *

Activity 2 (work together, 5 minutes)

Find a partner, or work in a group of three so that nobody is left alone, but work with people outside your own project group. Take out the summary of the journal article that you wrote in the pre-class activities, and the article on which it is based. Tell your partner(s) about your article and the important parts in it. You can refer to your summary, but try not to read it yet; just attempt to explain verbally what the research involved, why it was interesting, and what the main findings were. Then mention some of the other information that was relatively interesting but that you did not include, before trying to justify to your partner(s) why it was not worth including in your summary.

Activity 3 (work together, 15 minutes)

Swap your summary with your partner and show them the related article so that they can refer to it if they want when reading through your summary. Your task is to provide constructive feedback on the summary that you are given (they will use this later to improve it). You should comment on the content and the style.

In terms of content, remember to pay attention to the six important questions that apply to summaries and ask whether these have been addressed:

Q1: What problem/question does this research consider?
Q2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
Q3: What did the researchers predict?
Q4: What methods were used (in general)?
Q5: What were the main findings?
Q6: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

In terms of style, try to recall all of the things you have learned in these writing skills classes and look out for any associated errors. Hint: Do the sentences transition smoothly, are units, numbers and abbreviations in the correct form, are the active and passive voices used appropriately, are the mechanics of the grammar applied effectively, is everything written as concisely and interestingly as possible, and are linked elements in parallel form?

Activity 4 (work together 10 minutes)

Use the constructive feedback you receive from your partner(s) to try to improve the quality of your summary. If you run out of time, do not worry; a very similar activity will be included as a graded question in the post-class activities so that you can show how you have improved your summary after receiving feedback from your partner(s).

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: In-Class Activity Solutions

Version 1

Summarizing Journal Articles: Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities provide you with some refresher questions that focus on the skills needed to write succinct summaries before giving you more practice in summarizing jargon-heavy journal articles effectively. Lastly, you will be asked to provide a final, improved summary of the journal article that you worked on in the pre-class activities, and which you received feedback on in the in-class activity session.

Questions 1, 2, and 3 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

For each of the following questions, read the statement related to writing a summary of a research article, and answer either ‘True’ or ‘False’.

Q1: When summarizing a research article, you must always refer to the source.
Q2: When summarizing a research article, you must use quotations from it.
Q3: When summarizing a research article, you should only try to summarize one result (the most important finding).

Question 4 (6 marks)

Read the journal article below. You may need to log in to your institution’s library when prompted. Alternatively, you can access them yourself using the Google Scholar search function; typing in the article title alone (bolded below) will bring up a link.

Canyon wrens alter their songs in response to territorial challenges (Benedict, L, Rose, A, Warning, N. (2012).)

Recall that when you summarize an article, your goal should be to answer the following five questions succinctly, and in your own words:

1: What problem/question does this research consider?
2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
3: What methods were used (in general)?
4: What were the main findings?
5: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

First, try to summarize the article by answering these five questions (1 mark each, 5 marks total). Then, paste all of your answers together into one long summary and edit this to make it more succinct and interesting to read. As a test, try to do this in less than 150 words (1 mark). Hint: When editing your answers to the five questions into one summary, you should be able to incorporate more than two answers into some sentences.

Question 5 (6 marks)

So far, you have spent most of your time focusing on the translation of content from a journal article. Now you will focus a little more on style. Both elements must be handled carefully to ensure that your summary is as good as it can be.

The paragraph of text below is a published summary taken from a research thesis. Although it scores quite highly in terms of content (the reasons for the research, the main findings, and the recommendations are explained in detail), there are a number of areas that could be improved in terms of style (especially for a more general audience). Two of these are in the transitions between sentences, and the jargon used throughout.

Your task is to copy and paste the abstract before re-writing parts of it to improve the transitions (3 marks) and minimize the jargon (3 marks). Try to make at least three changes to components that come under each of these categories. Be sure to bold all changes so they are easy to see.

Introduced plant species exert major influences on the structure and function of ecosystems, and are often implicated in biodiversity declines. The Eurasian annual cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum, has spread extensively in western North America since its introduction over 150 years ago; it extirpates native species, appears to have increased fire cycle periodicities, and provides cattle with inadequate nutrition. Because cheatgrass abundance recently increased in pastures of grassland in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada, assessing environmental and biotic factors that influence its abundance is important from a management perspective. In an observational study at five heterogeneous sites, I isolated a number of highly significant correlations; cheatgrass abundance was positively correlated with proximity to focal ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) trees, but negatively correlated with other plant diversity. Also, soil pH and soil moisture were significantly lower in proximity to trees than at distances further away, suggesting soil chemistry could have affected cheatgrass abundance. Because other analyses indicated that cheatgrass abundance differed in relation to the identity of the other species present, I conducted community-wide and species-specific co-occurrence analyses; I asked whether invaded communities featured different assembly patterns and isolated the species that had the strongest co-occurrence patterns with cheatgrass. I found that communities lacking cheatgrass were more diverse in terms of grass species and appeared to be structured non-randomly. Invaded communities, however, displayed patterns indicative of ‘disassembly’ as co-occurrence relationships did not differ from null predictions. Five grass species grew relatively more frequently if cheatgrass was present; these were bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegnaria spicata), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), western needlegrass (Stipa occidentalis), sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus) and needle-and-thread-grass (Stipa comata). These results suggest that selective herbicide use in proximity to pine trees could be effective in controlling cheatgrass in these grasslands. I recommend manipulative experiments to assess the potential of this technique, as well as seeding experiments designed to characterize the most effective natural competitors against cheatgrass.

Question 6 (5 marks)

Copy and paste the summary of the journal article that you wrote in the pre-class activities (the original version, before you worked on it in the in-class activities). You will need to do this before showing the improved version to give yourself the chance to obtain full marks; without both versions it is impossible to know how you have improved the original summary. Be sure to label each summary so that it is clear which one was your original version.

Then write in the feedback that you received from your partner(s) (1 mark, this can be in bullet point form), and note how you have edited your summary to improve it based on this feedback (1 mark, this can also be in bullet point form). Then write your improved summary with the main changes in bold to make it easy to see how it has improved from your original version (3 marks).

Note: If for some reason you missed the in-class activities, or did not receive feedback from a partner on your original summary, you can still achieve full marks for this question. Instead of writing in the feedback received from your partner(s), write in things that you feel could be improved, before stating how you have edited your summary to reflect these. Make sure you also write your new version of the original summary. If you did not complete the pre-class activities and do not have an original summary to work from, you can still receive 3 marks for a well-written summary of your research article.

Version 2

Summarizing Journal Articles: Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities provide you with some refresher questions that focus on the skills needed to write effective summaries before giving you more practice in summarizing jargon-heavy articles effectively. Lastly, you will be asked to provide a final, improved summary of the journal article that you worked on in the pre-class activities, and which you received feedback on in the in-class activity session.

Questions 1, 2, 3 and 4 (1 mark each, 4 marks total)

For each of the following questions, read the statement related to writing a summary of a journal article, and answer either ‘True’ or ‘False’ (if all or part of it is false).

Q1: When summarizing a research article, you should quote directly from it. Q2: When summarizing a research article, you should never include the specific numerical details of the main results (e.g. the statistical results). Q3: When summarizing a research article, you will probably need to use a lot of jargon. Q4: When summarizing a research article, you should only try to summarize the single most important result.

Question 5 (8 marks)

Read the journal article below. You may need to log in to your institution’s library when prompted. Alternatively, you can access them yourself using the Google Scholar search function; typing in the article title alone (bolded below) will bring up a link.

Canyon wrens alter their songs in response to territorial challenges (Benedict, L, Rose, A, Warning, N. (2012).)

Recall that when you summarize an article, your goal should be to answer the following six questions succinctly, and in your own words:

1: What problem/question does this research consider?
2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
3: What did the researchers predict?
4: What methods were used (in general)?
5: What were the main findings?
6: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?

First, try to summarize the article by answering these six questions (1 mark each, 6 marks total). Then, paste all your answers together into one long summary and edit this to make it more succinct and interesting to read. As a test, try to do this in less than 150 words (2 marks). Hint: When editing your answers to the six questions into one summary, you should be able to incorporate more than two answers into some sentences.

Question 6 (6 marks)

So far, you have spent most of your time focusing on the translation of content from a journal article. Now you will focus a little more on style. Both elements must be handled carefully to ensure that your summary is as good as it can be.

The paragraph of text below is a published summary taken from a research thesis. Although it scores quite highly in terms of content (the reasons for the research, the main findings, and the recommendations are explained in detail), there are a number of areas that could be improved in terms of style (especially for a more general audience). Two of these are in the transitions between sentences, and the jargon used throughout.

Your task is to copy and paste the abstract before re-writing parts of it to improve the transitions (3 marks) and minimize the jargon (3 marks). Try to make at least three changes to components that come under each of these categories. Be sure to bold all changes so they are easy to see.

Introduced plant species exert major influences on the structure and function of ecosystems, and are often implicated in biodiversity declines. The Eurasian annual cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum, has spread extensively in western North America since its introduction over 150 years ago; it extirpates native species, appears to have increased fire cycle periodicities, and provides cattle with inadequate nutrition. Because cheatgrass abundance recently increased in pastures of grassland in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada, assessing environmental and biotic factors that influence its abundance is important from a management perspective. In an observational study at five heterogeneous sites, I isolated a number of highly significant correlations; cheatgrass abundance was positively correlated with proximity to focal ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) trees, but negatively correlated with other plant diversity. Also, soil pH and soil moisture were significantly lower in proximity to trees than at distances further away, suggesting soil chemistry could have affected cheatgrass abundance. Because other analyses indicated that cheatgrass abundance differed in relation to the identity of the other species present, I conducted community-wide and species-specific co-occurrence analyses; I asked whether invaded communities featured different assembly patterns and isolated the species that had the strongest co-occurrence patterns with cheatgrass. I found that communities lacking cheatgrass were more diverse in terms of grass species and appeared to be structured non-randomly. Invaded communities, however, displayed patterns indicative of ‘disassembly’ as co-occurrence relationships did not differ from null predictions. Five grass species grew relatively more frequently if cheatgrass was present; these were bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegnaria spicata), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), western needlegrass (Stipa occidentalis), sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus) and needle-and-thread-grass (Stipa comata). These results suggest that selective herbicide use in proximity to pine trees could be effective in controlling cheatgrass in these grasslands. I recommend manipulative experiments to assess the potential of this technique, as well as seeding experiments designed to characterize the most effective natural competitors against cheatgrass.

Question 7 (7 marks)

Copy and paste the summary of the journal article that you wrote in the pre-class activities (the original version, before you worked on it in the in-class activities). You will need to do this before showing an improved version to give yourself the chance to obtain full marks; without both versions it is impossible to know how you have improved the original summary. Be sure to label each summary so that it is clear which one was your original version.

Then write in the feedback that you received from your partner(s) (2 marks, this can be in bullet point form), and note how you have edited your summary to improve it based on this feedback (2 marks, this can also be in bullet point form). Then write your improved summary with the main changes in bold to make it easy to see how it has improved from your original version (3 marks).

Note: If for some reason you missed the in-class activities, or did not receive feedback from a partner on your original summary, you can still achieve full marks for this question. Instead of writing in the feedback received from your partner(s), write in things that you feel could be improved, before stating how you have edited your summary to reflect these. Make sure you also write your new version of the original summary. If you did not complete the pre-class activities and do not have an original summary to work from, you can still receive 3 marks for a well-written summary of your research article.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1, Version 2, and Version 3 Solutions

Summarizing Journal Articles In-Class PowerPoint

Timing Guide

Pre-Class Activities: Version 1  |  Version 2  |  Version 3

In-Class Activities

Post-Class Activities: Version 1  |  Version 2


The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Pre-class activity, Post-class activity, and In-class activity solutions