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Writing Summaries

Adapted by Monica LeMoine.

What is a summary, and why do I need to know how to write one?

"Summarizing" means accurately describing somebody else's ideas using your own words. Whether you know it or not, you do summarizing in your own life outside of school. When you see a movie and then tell your friend what it's about, you are summarizing. To summarize is to accurately restate the author's main point, purpose, intent, and supporting details IN YOUR OWN WORDS.

The ability to write an effective summary might be the most important writing skill a college student can possess. Your college professors will frequently ask you to summarize what you have read, partly to show that you understand the reading. Summarizing is also a key requirements in most job fields. For instance, you might be asked to report on what a doctor said about a certain patient; explain another company's marketing strategy; or describe the key things that you learned at a professional development conference. Best of all, summarizing is a learning tool! The process of summarizing can help you to better grasp the original text, and your summary will show the reader that you understand it as well.

How to Organize a Summary:

1. The first sentence should provide the author and title of the original article, as well as a concise restatement of the main idea. That is, in a single sentence, tell your reader what the article is called, who wrote it, and what the author is trying to say. USE YOUR OWN WORDS.

2. Then, IN YOUR OWN WORDS, describe the major supporting points and types of evidence. Include one or two key examples or details, if you think they are important for conveying the meaning of the original article.

3. Remind your reader frequently that these ideas are someone else's, not yours, by using author tags throughout your summary. Author tags refer back to the original author (Smith says ___, according to Smith, ___, Smith points out that____, Smith believes that___, Smith argues that___).

4. USE YOUR OWN WORDS throughout your summary. If you can't think of how to say something, use quotes but aim for 10% or less of quoted material.

Sample Summary (author tags underlined and instructor commentary in italics)

Author Jaime O'Neill's article, "No Allusions in the Classroom," emphasizes the communication problem between teachers and students due to the students' lack of basic knowledge. Notice the first sentence gave the name of the author and article, as well as a concise statement of the text's main idea. The author supports this assertion by using a combination of personal experience, evidence obtained from recent polls, other professors' opinions, and the results of an experiment he conducted in his own classroom. This last sentence sums up the types of evidence used in the original article. The experiment O'Neill conducted was an ungraded eighty-six question "general knowledge" test issued to students on the first day of classes. On this test, "most students answered incorrectly far more often than they answered correctly." Incorrect answers included fallacies such as: "Darwin invented gravity" and "Leningrad was in Jamaica." Compounding the problem, students don't ask questions. This means that their teachers assume they know things that they do not. O'Neill shows the scope of this problem by showing that, according to their teachers, this seems to be a typical problem across the United States. O'Neill feels that common knowledge in a society is essential to communicate. Without this common knowledge, learning is made much more difficult because teacher and student do not have a common body of knowledge from which to draw. The author shows the deterioration of common knowledge through poll results, personal experience, other teachers' opinions, and his own experiment's results.

Adapted from:,