Online Writing Lab

Summarizing

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 you are summarizing.  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.  Then, 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 should be significantly shorter than the work itself.  If your summary is close to the overall length of the work, then chances are you are simply paraphrasing the majority of the work rather than summarizing.  If the summary is too short, then some important points are probably being missed. 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 3 pages, the summary should be roughly 3/4 to one full page).

Tips for Summarizing

  • Read the essay as many times as necessary to gain a full understanding of it.
  • Do not interject your personal opinion into any summary.  No first person ("I" statements) are allowed (save these for the response portion, if there is one).
  • Always name the author (full name) and the article or essay title in the introductory paragraph, usually in the first or second sentence.
  • After introducing the author with his/her full name, refer to him/her by last name throughout rest of summary.
  • Always use present tense to discuss the essay and facts from the essay.
  • Use direct quotes from the text or paraphrase examples to support your claims.  Paraphrasing should be done more than quoting, which should be kept to a minimum.  Quoting should only be used with unique language that is hard to paraphrase.
  • When talking about an essay or article, always capitalize the title and place it in quotation marks.  Do not use italics.  Italics should only be used when referring to longer works, such as books or movies.  Example:  "Just a Smile and a Handshake"    Not "Just a Smile and a Handshake."