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Writing a Summary

Guide for writing a summary.

Preparing to Write a Summary

The first step you'll take when writing a summary is to select the resource that you want to summarize if one is not provided to you as part of an assignment. Since these requirements can vary across disciplines, these broad guides can help you select and evaluate materials in the library's collection to see if they apply to the needs of your specific assignment:

Tips for Success:

First, and most importantly, make sure that the item you have selected aligns with your assignment. 

Once you select your source, you'll want to read through the entire resource at least twice.

If you've ever watched a movie or read a book more than once, you probably noticed things the second, third, or even fourth time through that you didn't pick up on when you made the first pass through it. Reading to write any type of paper requires that same level of repeated exposure to the work you're trying to examine so that you notice those small details and have the opportunity to reflect on how they are connected.

Read first for understanding. You must have a broad understanding of what the article says before you can explain it to others.

Read again to chunk content. When you chunk content, you break apart paragraphs to find related themes or topics. This is an effective technique for remembering information, but it can also help you to avoid accidental instances of plagiarism. Look for ways that you can categorize important details from the text into broader categories.

Effective summaries often:

  • Are shorter than other types of essays, or take up very little space in the framework of other types of essays
  • Tell what is important about the text being summarized
  • Are written in your own words

Once you have made some notes, take a break. It helps when you can let the ideas "breathe" so that you have time to reflect. You'll write a stronger summary if you give yourself plenty of time. Peer review can also be an effective technique to make sure others can follow along with your summary.