Summaries

A summary is a general restatement of the meaning of a passage. It focuses on the main idea or ideas of the piece. When you write a summary, you take the essence of a piece of writing and rewrite it in you own words, usually eliminating many of the details and illustrative examples.

Summaries vary in length but are significantly shorter than the original. Reduce the original text as much as you can while still providing all the important information. Your objective is to condense without leaving out anything that is part of the essence of the original.

Here are some steps to take as you write summaries. It’s helpful to make a copy of the original source so you can make notes on it.

  • Skim the passage you are going to summarize. Get a general idea of what points the author of the piece is making.
  • Read the passage carefully, noting its main ideas and supporting points.
  • Highlight and make notes on the text. Write down definitions of key and technical terms.
  • Decide what to include in summary. Write a one-sentence restatement (in your own words) of it’s main idea(s). You summary should answer the journalist’s questions: who, what, where, when, how, and why. Do not include your opinion of the original or the author unless your instructor asks you to critique.
  • Write a draft and then revise it. It does take practice to write effective summaries. Until you become proficient, expect to revise your summaries just as you do other pieces of writing.
  • Avoid plagiarism. Whenever you mention a main idea, make sure you put it in your own words or carefully attribute original wording to the author. You may quote from the original; provide documentation.

Summaries provide the key points of an original at a glance and leave out the details. Problem summaries often omit key ideas, mix ideas, or represent them inaccurately. Summaries should not rely too heavily on quoted material; use your own words.

Remember, unless your instructor asks you to, do not include evaluation of the original’s main points. If the assignment asks you to critique, evaluate, comment on, criticize, discuss or interpret, then you should include a well-supported evaluation.


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