Summary Writing

Click here for a PDF of this article, Summary Writing

Summary: condensed, concise, edited version of a longer piece of writing

Procedures for Summary Writing:  

  • Decide on the purpose of your summary (beyond just getting a grade for your homework).
  • Thoroughly understand the material to be summarized.


  • Read and think about the title.
  • Read the opening and closing paragraphs of the text.
  • Read the topic sentences of each paragraph.
  • You are looking for major ideas and the organization of the text.

Read and Annotate (make notes):

  • Underline key ideas, facts, and conclusions as you read.
  • Underline essentials.
  • Avoid underlining introductory material, examples, or general remarks.
  • Make notes in the margins: questions, mini-summaries, (dis)agreements, etc.

Descriptive summary:  one sentence which describes the overall meaning of an article.

Try to summarize in the MOST GENERAL terms, what the article is about.

  • (Article Title) by (Author’s Name) is about….
  • Star Wars by George Lucas is about a young man named Luke Skywalker who finds his true father and becomes a Jedi knight as he fights the forces of evil.
  • “Shopping Fever” by John De Graff is about Americans’ obsession with shopping and the far-reaching affects it has on our culture.

Informative summary:  short paragraph that gives the major facts and conclusions of an article or piece of writing.

  • Rewrite the underlined portions of the article in your own words.
  • Combine ideas and reorganize the article so that it is shorter and more concise (less than 25% of the original length).
  • Imagine that you are the author and the editors have asked you to rewrite the article.  Avoid “s/he says” and speak using the present tense.
  • Focus on main ideas and conclusions.

Reread the original article:

  • Check your summary for accuracy and emphasis.
  • Double check facts (you should have them annotated / underlined anyway).
  • Your treatment of ideas should mirror the original text’s emphasis.
  • Make sure your summary is equally proportioned to the article / text:  If ½ of the article covers Subject A, and the other ½ is split between Subjects B and C, then ½ of your summary should cover A and ½ should be split between B and C.
  • Do not ignore facts or points just because you disagree or dislike them.
  • Don’t overemphasize facts you like or agree with.


  • Opinion: Stay away from writing either your personal opinion or the opinion of the originator.
  • New Data: Don’t add anything that wasn’t in the original information.
  • Irrelevant Specifics: Try to keep in mind what is essential to communicate and avoid all else.
  • Examples: The intent is to provide the essential information, results and or conclusions–not examples.
  • Background: Keep with the specifics. Your reader need not know about the how and why of the topic.
  • Reference Data: This is not a full-fledged formal document. It is a snapshot of an event or writing; it is not meant to be a reference source.
  • Jargon: Keep your audience in mind. Try to avoid using technical terms and writing in a “language” that your readers may have difficulty understanding.

Grading standards:

  • Do have annotations on the original text (underlining & notes on text)?
  • Is it concise (short)?
  • Is it precise (accurate)?
  • Is it proportional (in emphasis)?

Samples: To see samples of annotations & summaries, go to the Sample Annotations & Summary post.