Last Updated June 27, 2023.
How to Write a Summary? It's both easier and harder than you may think.
By definition, a summary is “a brief statement or account of the main points of something.” Writing a good summary indicates that you clearly understand a text and that you can effectively communicate that understanding to your readers. It’s a technical skill that demonstrates reading comprehension and writing ability. A well-written summary is not an analysis of the text; rather, it's a condensed overview of the original piece.
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. While it may be hard to resist the urge to underline when doing a first pass, reading the whole piece before dissecting it will ensure you’re grasping the main idea of the text without expanding on specific details. Overall, this will aid in avoiding an excessive summary.
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. Depending on the difficulty of the text, reread until you feel like you have a solid basis for your summary.
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. A thesis statement is a one-sentence claim, often in the introduction, that demonstrates your understanding of the author’s original work. 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
At this point, you’ve virtually outlined the introduction and body of your summary. Your thesis statement can be used as the introductory sentence to your summary, while the other main points will fall into the body paragraph. Be sure to include some transition words (then, however, also, moreover) to help with the overall structure and flow of the summary.
As you start to write the summary, keep the following in mind:
- Write in the 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.
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- 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.
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. Review the points in Step 6 to ensure the text does not contain any personal commentary and is written in the 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. If they can understand the original text based on your summary alone, it’s a good indicator that you’ve written a good summary. If they can’t follow what you’ve written, you should consider writing a second draft.
After making revisions to your summary, you’ll want to 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 first-person language
An Example Summary: To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story about Scout Finch, her older brother Jem, and their friend Dill Harris growing up amid the prejudice and injustice of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression.
The children spend several summers together throughout the novel. They are fascinated by their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, and make it their mission to lure him from his house. While the town views him as a monster, the children develop a desire to understand him. Meanwhile, Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. Tensions rise in Maycomb when Atticus agrees to defend Tom Robinson. Atticus, Tom, and their families receive several threats from the angry, white townspeople.
During the trial, Atticus argues that the woman’s injuries from the alleged incident could not have been caused by Tom, because his arm was crushed years prior to the case. Atticus accuses the woman’s father, Bob Ewell, for causing the injuries due to his history of drinking and abusive behavior. Though Tom Robinson is clearly innocent, the all-white jury finds him guilty. Tom is later killed in an escape attempt from prison.
After the trail, Bob Ewell is furious with Atticus’s accusations and seeks revenge. One night in the midst of a drunken rage, Bob Ewell tries to kill Scout and Jem. Suddenly, Boo Radley appears to save the children, killing Bob Ewell in the process.The town’s sheriff turns a blind eye to Ewell’s murder and Scout walks Boo Radley home, never to see him again.