There comes a point in a student’s academic career where she’ll have to write a summary. Knowing how to write a summary is one of the most beneficial skills that demonstrates reading comprehension and writing ability. Writing a good summary indicates that you clearly understand a text and that you can effectively communicate that understanding to your audience.
A summary can be tricky to write at first because it’s tempting to include specific details. But by following our easy 9-step method, you will be able to summarize texts quickly and successfully for any class or subject.
The first step to a well-written summary is to read the original piece of work. Focus on reading the original text without taking any notes. The goal is to become familiar with the main idea of the piece while gaining insight into the author’s specific style and voice.
2. Gather the Main Idea
Once you’ve finished reading the original piece, take time to reflect on what you’ve read. Think about the important points of the text and how the author constructed the sequence of events. Determine the Five Ws (who, what, where, when, why) of the story to help illuminate the essential elements of the text.
3. Reread while Taking Notes
Rereading means active reading. Read the story again, this time marking the important points you’ll want to include in your summary. Underline topic sentences and significant plot points, highlight essential quotes, and number the major events as they occur. Also, note the areas you do not understand.
4. Organize your Notes
Once you’ve actively reread the text, take a couple of minutes to organize the information you’ve collected. Depending on your learning style, find a way to organize your notes that will make them a reliable reference when you start writing. Go back and elaborate on the key points you noted and clarify any information that was difficult to understand.
5. Create a thesis statement
The key to a good summary is a developed thesis statement. The purpose of including a thesis statement in a book summary is to correctly identify the author’s argument or main idea of the text. When writing a summary, you want to recast the author’s argument, without including a personal opinion.
6. Draft a Short Paragraph
As you start to write the summary, keep the following in mind:
- Write in present tense
- Include the author and title of the work
- Be concise—a summary should not be equal in length to the original text
- Cite direct quotes if you use them.
- Don’t put your own opinions, ideas, or interpretations into the summary. The purpose of writing a summary is to accurately represent what the author wanted to say, not to provide a critique.
- Be sure to include some transition words (then, however, also, moreover) to help with the overall structure and flow of the summary.
7. Check for accuracy
Once you’ve completed your draft, reread your summary to make sure you’ve accurately represented the author’s main ideas and you’ve correctly cited any direct quotes. Ensure the text does not contain any personal commentary and is written in present tense.
After you’ve checked for accuracy, you should (as with any piece of writing) revise it for style, grammar, and punctuation. Once you’ve reviewed it yourself, try to find someone else willing to look it over, because another set of eyes may catch something you missed. Plus, if they can understand the original text based on your summary alone, it’s a good indicator that you’ve written a good summary.
After making revisions to your summary, give your writing a final review. Go through the checklist below to make sure your summary encompasses all of the necessary parts.
- Included title and author in the introduction
- Used present tense language
- Included a thesis statement
- Cited all direct textual references
- Avoided the first-person language
For a more in-depth review on how to write a summary and to see an example summary, visit eNotes’ How-To Series.