I'm a exchange student that just arrived in the US. The professor is asking us to do this:

Please write and submit brief synopses of each paper before class which include the following:

  • the title and authors
  • a one paragraph summary of the paper (do not copy the abstract - how would you summarize the paper?)
  • 1-3 things you found most interesting (at most one paragraph)
  • 1-3 questions that arose for you while reading the paper (at most one paragraph)

I never did this before, specially in English. How should this look like ? You have rules to do (spacing, font, etc.) ? And are the "Title and authors" for my text or the authors of the papers ?

3 Answers 3


This is a fairly simple assignment. To answer your questions:

  • Obviously your name and class information should appear at the top of the assignment (unless otherwise instructed by the professor).

  • The "title and authors" referred to by the professor are in reference to the paper that you are discussing, not you!

  • You are told to write in complete paragraphs. That means no bullet lists, so write everything as complete, well-structured sentences.

  • Spacing and font are up to you, but in general, I'd use at least 1.5 times normal spacing and 11 pt or larger font (unless you're working with LaTeX, in which case the formatting is handled for you).


Unless your professor specified something, you can basically use whatever format you want. Make sure that it looks professional though (i.e. don't use Comic Sans). The titles and authors would be those of the paper you are summarising.

Apart from that, the structure is already given. I would probably put each synopsis on a separate page with something like "Summary of ..." and the title of the paper as heading.


I think this is a really useful habit to get into when you are just starting to read the literature. It lets you look back and quickly refresh yourself about what you found interesting in the paper. I would suggest that as you develop a reference library (e.g., LaTeX bib file or Endnote) that you keep some of the content in that file. As I think grades are less important in grad school than knowledge, use a format that makes it easiest to archive with your bibliographic software.

If you use LaTeX (and possibly in MS Word) you could probably write a citation style and document class that would automagically build the document from the bib data.

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