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Online Writing Lab


A common writing assignment in a variety of college courses is the summary of a particular essay or journal article. The purpose of a summary is to accurately describe the main point and the important details of the piece. In short, you are describing what the essay (or other piece of literature) is about to someone who has not read it. 

While summary writing is generally fairly short, it is not easy. A good summary incorporates all of the important aspects of a particular essay so that a reader who has not read the original work can understand what it is about. Thus, the most important element of a good summary is the ability to accurately depict what is in the original article. 

In order to do so, you must be familiar with the work you are summarizing. A good summary begins by reading the piece many times in order to gain a full understanding of it. Once the work is fully understood, it is important to relate the thesis and the important points that support it.

Summaries should be fairly short and significantly shorter than the work itself. If your summary is close to the overall length of the work, chances are you are simply paraphrasing the majority of the work rather than summarizing. If the summary is too short, then you probably missed some important points. Generally, the length of a summary should be about one quarter to one third of the total length of the article that is being summarized. For example, if the essay you are summarizing is three pages, the summary should be roughly three-quarters to one full page).

Tips for Summarizing