A summary is intended
to highlight objectively the main points of another writer’s work. Although
written in your own words, the summary does not include your opinions of
the piece you are considering. Since the summary eliminates those details that
are not needed to convey the major points, it is naturally shorter than
the original. In general, a summary is from one fourth to one half the length of
The problem we all face when attempting to summarize a piece of writing is
figuring out what to include and what to leave out. Below are some tips on how
to choose material to include in your summary.
- Cross out the less important detail
- Underline topic sentences and key ideas in each paragraph
- Take notes on those key ideas—jot down the information that clarifies a
topic sentence, for example.
- Model the summary on the structure of the original. Keep the size of your
paragraphs in roughly the same proportion as the paragraphs of the original
and in the same order. This will help you eliminate details that should not
These steps may also help you write a good summary:
- Read the piece for understanding first. Never summarize as you read the
article for the first time.
- Before you begin to write, check for topic sentences and key words
(words that are underlined, italicized, or capitalized). These will clue
you in on main ideas.
- Jot down the organization of the original and follow that pattern in
- Check your summary to be sure you have been objective. Your opinions are
not part of the original!
- Identify the title of your article/text* and its author in the beginning of the summary.
- Any words referred to as words should be italicized, e.g.,
The word affect is frequently confused with effect.
- Refer to the source/author of the information your are summarizing often
in your summary. Don't write the summary (or give your presentation)
as if you were formulating all the ideas yourself. Be sure to refer
to the source of your information throughout. e.g., Smith
points out that language is a system of signs (15).
*Some of you may actually be referring to two texts and two writers in
your presentation and summary: You may be reporting on 1) Harriet
Bleecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin for example as well as
2). what a critic such as Jane Tompkins has to say about Stowe's work.
Be sure to refer to Stowe as well as Tompkins in your presentation and
3. Check your summary to be sure that you have properly documented
any words or phrases that you have taken from the original/source. Put direct
quotation marks and use the MLA documentation system with in-text
citations and a Works Cited Page. You can find examples of MLA style in
your handbook or on the Falvey Web page.