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Article Summaries, Reviews & Critiques

Writing an article summary.

  • Writing an article REVIEW
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When writing a summary, the goal is to compose a concise and objective overview of the original article. The summary should focus only on the article's main ideas and important details that support those ideas.

Guidelines for summarizing an article:

  • State the main ideas.
  • Identify the most important details that support the main ideas.
  • Summarize in your own words.
  • Do not copy phrases or sentences unless they are being used as direct quotations.
  • Express the underlying meaning of the article, but do not critique or analyze.
  • The summary should be about one third the length of the original article. 

Your summary should include:

  • Give an overview of the article, including the title and the name of the author.
  • Provide a thesis statement that states the main idea of the article.
  • Use the body paragraphs to explain the supporting ideas of your thesis statement.
  • One-paragraph summary - one sentence per supporting detail, providing 1-2 examples for each.
  • Multi-paragraph summary - one paragraph per supporting detail, providing 2-3 examples for each.
  • Start each paragraph with a topic sentence.
  • Use transitional words and phrases to connect ideas.
  • Summarize your thesis statement and the underlying meaning of the article.

 Adapted from "Guidelines for Using In-Text Citations in a Summary (or Research Paper)" by Christine Bauer-Ramazani, 2020

Additional Resources

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How to Write a Summary - Guide & Examples  (from Scribbr.com)

Writing a Summary  (from The University of Arizona Global Campus Writing Center)

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How to Write a Summary (Examples Included)

Ashley Shaw

Ashley Shaw

How to write a summary

Have you ever recommended a book to someone and given them a quick overview? Then you’ve created a summary before!

Summarizing is a common part of everyday communication. It feels easy when you’re recounting what happened on your favorite show, but what do you do when the information gets a little more complex?

Written summaries come with their own set of challenges. You might ask yourself:

  • What details are unnecessary?
  • How do you put this in your own words without changing the meaning?
  • How close can you get to the original without plagiarizing it?
  • How long should it be?

The answers to these questions depend on the type of summary you are doing and why you are doing it.

A summary in an academic setting is different to a professional summary—and both of those are very different to summarizing a funny story you want to tell your friends.

One thing they all have in common is that you need to relay information in the clearest way possible to help your reader understand. We’ll look at some different forms of summary, and give you some tips on each.

Let’s get started!

What Is a Summary?

How do you write a summary, how do you write an academic summary, what are the four types of academic summaries, how do i write a professional summary, writing or telling a summary in personal situations, summarizing summaries.

A summary is a shorter version of a larger work. Summaries are used at some level in almost every writing task, from formal documents to personal messages.

When you write a summary, you have an audience that doesn’t know every single thing you know.

When you want them to understand your argument, topic, or stance, you may need to explain some things to catch them up.

Instead of having them read the article or hear every single detail of the story or event, you instead give them a brief overview of what they need to know.

Academic, professional, and personal summaries each require you to consider different things, but there are some key rules they all have in common.

Let’s go over a few general guides to writing a summary first.

A summary should be shorter than the original

1. A summary should always be shorter than the original work, usually considerably.

Even if your summary is the length of a full paper, you are likely summarizing a book or other significantly longer work.

2. A summary should tell the reader the highlights of what they need to know without giving them unnecessary details.

3. It should also include enough details to give a clear and honest picture.

For example, if you summarize an article that says “ The Office is the greatest television show of all time,” but don’t mention that they are specifically referring to sitcoms, then you changed the meaning of the article. That’s a problem! Similarly, if you write a summary of your job history and say you volunteered at a hospital for the last three years, but you don’t add that you only went twice in that time, it becomes a little dishonest.

4. Summaries shouldn’t contain personal opinion.

While in the longer work you are creating you might use opinion, within the summary itself, you should avoid all personal opinion. A summary is different than a review. In this moment, you aren’t saying what you think of the work you are summarizing, you are just giving your audience enough information to know what the work says or did.

Include enough detail

Now that we have a good idea of what summaries are in general, let’s talk about some specific types of summary you will likely have to do at some point in your writing life.

An academic summary is one you will create for a class or in other academic writing. The exact elements you will need to include depend on the assignment itself.

However, when you’re asked for an academic summary, this usually this means one of five things, all of which are pretty similar:

  • You need to do a presentation in which you talk about an article, book, or report.
  • You write a summary paper in which the entire paper is a summary of a specific work.
  • You summarize a class discussion, lesson, or reading in the form of personal notes or a discussion board post.
  • You do something like an annotated bibliography where you write short summaries of multiple works in preparation of a longer assignment.
  • You write quick summaries within the body of another assignment . For example, in an argumentative essay, you will likely need to have short summaries of the sources you use to explain their argument before getting into how the source helps you prove your point.

Places to find academic summaries

Regardless of what type of summary you are doing, though, there are a few steps you should always follow:

  • Skim the work you are summarizing before you read it. Notice what stands out to you.
  • Next, read it in depth . Do the same things stand out?
  • Put the full text away and write in a few sentences what the main idea or point was.
  • Go back and compare to make sure you didn’t forget anything.
  • Expand on this to write and then edit your summary.

Each type of academic summary requires slightly different things. Let’s get down to details.

How Do I Write a Summary Paper?

Sometimes teachers assign something called a summary paper . In this, the entire thing is a summary of one article, book, story, or report.

To understand how to write this paper, let’s talk a little bit about the purpose of such an assignment.

A summary paper is usually given to help a teacher see how well a student understands a reading assignment, but also to help the student digest the reading. Sometimes, it can be difficult to understand things we read right away.

However, a good way to process the information is to put it in our own words. That is the point of a summary paper.

What a summary paper is

A summary paper is:

  • A way to explain in our own words what happened in a paper, book, etc.
  • A time to think about what was important in the paper, etc.
  • A time to think about the meaning and purpose behind the paper, etc.

Here are some things that a summary paper is not:

  • A review. Your thoughts and opinions on the thing you are summarizing don’t need to be here unless otherwise specified.
  • A comparison. A comparison paper has a lot of summary in it, but it is different than a summary paper. In this, you are just saying what happened, but you aren’t saying places it could have been done differently.
  • A paraphrase (though you might have a little paraphrasing in there). In the section on using summary in longer papers, I talk more about the difference between summaries, paraphrases, and quotes.

What a summary paper is not

Because a summary paper is usually longer than other forms of summary, you will be able to chose more detail. However, it still needs to focus on the important events. Summary papers are usually shorter papers.

Let’s say you are writing a 3–4 page summary. You are likely summarizing a full book or an article or short story, which will be much longer than 3–4 pages.

Imagine that you are the author of the work, and your editor comes to you and says they love what you wrote, but they need it to be 3–4 pages instead.

How would you tell that story (argument, idea, etc.) in that length without losing the heart or intent behind it? That is what belongs in a summary paper.

How Do I Write Useful Academic Notes?

Sometimes, you need to write a summary for yourself in the form of notes or for your classmates in the form of a discussion post.

You might not think you need a specific approach for this. After all, only you are going to see it.

However, summarizing for yourself can sometimes be the most difficult type of summary. If you try to write down everything your teacher says, your hand will cramp and you’ll likely miss a lot.

Yet, transcribing doesn’t work because studies show that writing things down (not typing them) actually helps you remember them better.

So how do you find the balance between summarizing the lessons without leaving out important points?

There are some tips for this:

  • If your professor writes it on the board, it is probably important.
  • What points do your textbooks include when summarizing information? Use these as a guide.
  • Write the highlight of every X amount of time, with X being the time you can go without missing anything or getting tired. This could be one point per minute, or three per five minutes, etc.

How Do I Create an Annotated Biography?

An annotated bibliography requires a very specific style of writing. Often, you will write these before a longer research paper . They will ask you to find a certain amount of articles and write a short annotation for each of them.

While an annotation is more than just a summary, it usually starts with a summary of the work. This will be about 2–3 sentences long. Because you don’t have a lot of room, you really have to think about what the most important thing the work says is.

This will basically ask you to explain the point of the article in these couple of sentences, so you should focus on the main point when expressing it.

Here is an example of a summary section within an annotation about this post:

“In this post, the author explains how to write a summary in different types of settings. She walks through academic, professional, and personal summaries. Ultimately, she claims that summaries should be short explanations that get the audience caught up on the topic without leaving out details that would change the meaning.”

What are annotation summaries?

Can I Write a Summary Within an Essay?

Perhaps the most common type of summary you will ever do is a short summary within a longer paper.

For example, if you have to write an argumentative essay, you will likely need to use sources to help support your argument.

However, there is a good chance that your readers won’t have read those same sources.

So, you need to give them enough detail to understand your topic without spending too much time explaining and not enough making your argument.

While this depends on exactly how you are using summary in your paper, often, a good amount of summary is the same amount you would put in an annotation.

Just a few sentences will allow the reader to get an idea of the work before moving on to specific parts of it that might help your argument.

What’s the Difference Between Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Using Quotes?

One important thing to recognize when using summaries in academic settings is that summaries are different than paraphrases or quotes.

A summary is broader and more general. A paraphrase, on the other hand, puts specific parts into your own words. A quote uses the exact words of the original. All of them, however, need to be cited.

Let’s look at an example:

Take these words by Thomas J. Watson:

”Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t as all. You can be discouraged by failure—or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember, that’s where you will find success.”

Let’s say I was told to write a summary, a paraphrase, and a quote about this statement. This is what it might look like:

Summary: Thomas J. Watson said that the key to success is actually to fail more often. (This is broad and doesn’t go into details about what he says, but it still gives him credit.)

Paraphrase: Thomas J. Watson, on asking if people would like his formula for success, said that the secret was to fail twice as much. He claimed that when you decide to learn from your mistakes instead of being disappointed by them, and when you start making a lot of them, you will actually find more success. (This includes most of the details, but it is in my own words, while still crediting the source.)

Quote: Thomas J. Watson said, ”Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure—or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember, that’s where you will find success.” (This is the exact words of the original with quotation marks and credit given.)

A summary versus a paraphrase versus a quote

Avoiding Plagiarism

One of the hardest parts about summarizing someone else’s writing is avoiding plagiarism .

A tip to avoid plagiarism

That’s why I have a few rules/tips for you when summarizing anything:

1. Always cite.

If you are talking about someone else’s work in any means, cite your source. If you are summarizing the entire work, all you probably need to do (depending on style guidelines) is say the author’s name. However, if you are summarizing a specific chapter or section, you should state that specifically. Finally, you should make sure to include it in your Work Cited or Reference page.

2. Change the wording.

Sometimes when people are summarizing or paraphrasing a work, they get too close to the original, and actually use the exact words. Unless you use quotation marks, this is plagiarism. However, a good way to avoid this is to hide the article while you are summarizing it. If you don’t have it in front of you, you are less likely to accidentally use the exact words. (However, after you are done, double check that you didn’t miss anything important or give wrong details.)

3. Use a plagiarism checker.

Of course, when you are writing any summary, especially academic summaries, it can be easy to cross the line into plagiarism. If this is a place where you struggle, then ProWritingAid can help.

ProWritingAid's Plagiarism Report

Just use our Plagiarism Report . It’ll highlight any unoriginal text in your document so you can make sure you are citing everything correctly and summarizing in your own words.

Find out more about ProWritingAid plagiarism bundles.

Along with academic summaries, you might sometimes need to write professional summaries. Often, this means writing a summary about yourself that shows why you are qualified for a position or organization.

In this section, let’s talk about two types of professional summaries: a LinkedIn summary and a summary section within a resume.

How Do I Write My LinkedIn Bio?

LinkedIn is all about professional networking. It offers you a chance to share a brief glimpse of your professional qualifications in a paragraph or two.

This can then be sent to professional connections, or even found by them without you having to reach out. This can help you get a job or build your network.

Your summary is one of the first things a future employer might see about you, and how you write yours can make you stand out from the competition.

Your resume's summary

Here are some tips on writing a LinkedIn summary :

  • Before you write it, think about what you want it to do . If you are looking for a job, what kind of job? What have you done in your past that would stand out to someone hiring for that position? That is what you will want to focus on in your summary.
  • Be professional . Unlike many social media platforms, LinkedIn has a reputation for being more formal. Your summary should reflect that to some extent.
  • Use keywords . Your summary is searchable, so using keywords that a recruiter might be searching for can help them find you.
  • Focus on the start . LinkedIn shows the first 300 characters automatically, and then offers the viewer a chance to read more. Make that start so good that everyone wants to keep reading.
  • Focus on accomplishments . Think of your life like a series of albums, and this is your speciality “Greatest Hits” album. What “songs” are you putting on it?

Tips for writing a linkedin summary

How Do I Summarize My Experience on a Resume?

Writing a professional summary for a resume is different than any other type of summary that you may have to do.

Recruiters go through a lot of resumes every day. They don’t have time to spend ages reading yours, which means you have to wow them quickly.

To do that, you might include a section at the top of your resume that acts almost as an elevator pitch: That one thing you might say to a recruiter to get them to want to talk to you if you only had a 30-second elevator ride.

Treat your resume summary as an elevator pitch

If you don’t have a lot of experience, though, you might want to skip this section entirely and focus on playing up the experience you do have.

Outside of academic and personal summaries, you use summary a lot in your day-to-day life.

Whether it is telling a good piece of trivia you just learned or a funny story that happened to you, or even setting the stage in creative writing, you summarize all the time.

How you use summary can be an important consideration in whether people want to read your work (or listen to you talk).

Here are some things to think about when telling a story:

  • Pick interesting details . Too many and your point will be lost. Not enough, and you didn’t paint the scene or give them a complete idea about what happened.
  • Play into the emotions . When telling a story, you want more information than the bare minimum. You want your reader to get the emotion of the story. That requires a little bit more work to accomplish.
  • Focus. A summary of one story can lead to another can lead to another. Think about storytellers that you know that go off on a tangent. They never seem to finish one story without telling 100 others!

Summarize a spoken story

To wrap up (and to demonstrate everything I just talked about), let’s summarize this post into its most essential parts:

A summary is a great way to quickly give your audience the information they need to understand the topic you are discussing without having to know every detail.

How you write a summary is different depending on what type of summary you are doing:

  • An academic summary usually gets to the heart of an article, book, or journal, and it should highlight the main points in your own words. How long it should be depends on the type of assignment it is.
  • A professional summary highlights you and your professional, academic, and volunteer history. It shows people in your professional network who you are and why they should hire you, work with you, use your talents, etc.

Being able to tell a good story is another form of summary. You want to tell engaging anecdotes and facts without boring your listeners. This is a skill that is developed over time.

Take your writing to the next level:

20 Editing Tips From Professional Writers

20 Editing Tips from Professional Writers

Whether you are writing a novel, essay, article, or email, good writing is an essential part of communicating your ideas., this guide contains the 20 most important writing tips and techniques from a wide range of professional writers..

example of article summary essay

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.

Ashley Shaw is a former editor and marketer/current PhD student and teacher. When she isn't studying con artists for her dissertation, she's thinking of new ways to help college students better understand and love the writing process. You can follow her on Twitter, or, if you prefer animal accounts, follow her rabbits, Audrey Hopbun and Fredra StaHare, on Instagram.

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How to Write a Summary of an Article: Brevity in Brilliance


Table of contents

  • 1 What Is an Article Summary?
  • 2 Difference Between Abstract and Research Summary Writing
  • 3.1 Preparing for Summarizing
  • 3.2 Identifying Main Ideas
  • 3.3 Writing The Summary
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 Methods
  • 4.3 Results
  • 4.4 Discussion
  • 4.5.1 Structure Types  
  • 5 Summary Writing Tips and Best Practices
  • 6 Common Mistakes to Avoid
  • 7 Examples of Article Summaries

Writing a review or a critique is often more difficult than it seems, so students and writers alike are often wondering about how to summarize an article. We know how challenging a task this can be, so this guide will give you a clear perspective and the main points on how to write a summary of an article.

Here’s a brief overview of the main points the article will cover before we start:

  • The essence of an article summary and how to approach writing it;
  • Three main steps for a successful research summary;
  • Tips and strategies for outlining the main idea;
  • Examples of good and bad short summaries for inspiration;
  • Common mistakes to avoid when writing a research article summary.

The steps outlined in this post will help you summarize an article in your own words without sacrificing the original text message and ideas.

What Is an Article Summary?

An article summary is a concise and condensed version of a longer piece of writing, often an article, research paper, or news report. Its purpose is to capture the main ideas, crucial points, and key arguments found in the original text, providing a brief and easily understandable overview.

These summaries are composed in the author’s own words, distilling the essential information to help readers quickly grasp the content without having to read the entire article. They serve as a helpful tool to offer a snapshot of the most important aspects of the content, making it simpler for readers to decide whether they wish to delve into the complete article.

A common goal of academic summary writing is to  improve critical thinking skills , and they serve as great practice for academic writers to improve their own writing skills. There are several main goals of writing a synopsis of an article:

  • This paper’s main goal is to provide a comprehensive yet brief descriptive comment on a particular article, telling your readers about the author’s topic sentence and important points in his work and the key points of it.
  • It serves to outline a laconic reader’s perspective on the paper while keeping the main point.
  • Identifies all the crucial segments from each of the paper’s sections.

A proper article summary can help do your college essays the right way because it provides a great, concise view of the source article. Especially if you are often facing writing tasks like academic papers, knowing how to write a good synopsis can upgrade your writing skills.

Difference Between Abstract and Research Summary Writing

Things get confusing when someone wants to define their place and purpose inside the text. To be more precise, the abstract appears first in the academic article, whereas the summary appears last.

Many students cannot distinguish between a summary and an abstract of a research paper. While these have certain similarities, they are not the same. Therefore, you must be aware of the subtleties before beginning a research article.

On the one hand, both components have a limited scope. Their goal is to provide a thorough literature assessment of the research paper’s main ideas. When you write a research summary, focus on your topic, methods, and findings.

Below you can find more differences between the abstract and research article summary for your project:

  • Abstracts provide a succinct synopsis of your work and showcase your writing style.
  • Abstracts lay out the background information and clarify the primary hypothesis thesis statement, while the summary emphasizes your research methodology, highlighting the important elements.

Finally, you must submit the abstract before actual publication. On the other hand, article summaries come with the finished piece of paper.

Steps to Write a Summary for an Article

In the world of effective communication, the skill of crafting short yet informative summaries is invaluable. Whether you’re a student dealing with academic articles, a professional simplifying complex reports, or simply someone looking to grasp the essence of an interesting read, mastering the art of summarization is crucial. This summarizing guidelines will lead you through the steps to write a compelling piece.

These steps will empower you to extract core ideas and key takeaways, making it easier to understand and share information efficiently.

Preparing for Summarizing

Before you start writing your summary of the article, you’ll have to read the piece a few times first as a base for further understanding. It’s recommended that you read the paper without taking any notes first because this gives you some room to create your own perspective of the work.

After the first reading, you should be able to tell the author’s perspective and the type of audience they are focusing on. Subsequently, you should get ready for the second read with a paper to write notes on as you get into the arguments of the post.

Identifying Main Ideas

As you come to the second read of the article, you should focus on the thesis statement, main ideas, and important details laid out in the piece. If you look at the headings and sections individually, you should be able to get some material for the summarizing by taking out the crucial events or a topic sentence from each part.

While writing down the main arguments of the post, make sure to ask the five “W” questions. If you think about the “Who” , “Why” , “When” , “Where” , and “What” , you should be able to construct a layout for the summary based on the main ideas.

Writing The Summary

Once you lay down the article’s main ideas and answer the key questions about it, you’ll have an outline for writing. The next move is to keep an eye out on the structure of the summary and use the material in your notes to write your short take on these essential points.

The steps for writing article summaries can be similar to the  main steps of article review writing . Therefore, it’s necessary to discuss the structure next so we can set you in the right direction with summary-specific format tips.

Outline Your Research Summary

To summarize research papers, you must be aware of the basic structure. You may know how to cite sources and filter the ideas, but you’ll also have to organize your findings in a concise academic structure.

The following components are essential for a summary paper format:


Your research article’s introduction is a brief overview of your work. Outlining important ideas or presenting the state of the topic under research seeks to make the issue easier for your audience to comprehend.

The Methods section includes tests, databases, experiments, surveys, questionnaires, sampling, or statistical analysis, used to conduct a research study. However, for a solid research paper summary example, you should avoid getting bogged down in the specifics and just discuss the tools you utilized and how you conducted your study.

This part the summary of research, presents all of the data you gathered from your investigations and analysis. Therefore, incorporate any information you learned by watching your target and the supporting theories.

This stage requires you to summarize research paper, evaluate the result in light of the pertinent background, and determine how it reacts to the prevailing trends. You need to identify the subject’s advantages and disadvantages once you have provided an explanation using theoretical models. You may also recommend more research in the area.

Use this last part to support or refute your theories in light of the data collection and analysis, though, if your mentor insists on it being in a separate paragraph.

Here’s a research summary example outlining the topic “The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health Among Adolescents”:

I. Introduction.

  • Brief overview of the rise of social media.
  • Importance of studying its impact on mental health.
  • Statement of the problem.
  • Purpose of the study.

II. Literature Review.

  • Statistics on social media penetration.
  • Common platforms and their features.
  • Studies supporting a negative and/or a positive impact.
  • Gaps and inconsistencies in existing literature.

III. Methodology.

  • Quantitative approach.
  • Cross-sectional survey.
  • Survey instrument details.
  • Ethical considerations.

IV. Data Analysis.

  • Descriptive statistics.
  • Inferential statistics (e.g., regression analysis).
  • Tables and figures.
  • Key findings.

V. Discussion.

  • Correlation between social media usage and mental health.
  • Identification of patterns and trends.
  • Practical implications for parents, educators, and policymakers.
  • Suggestions for future research.

VI. Conclusion.

  • Summary of key findings.
  • Final remarks on the study’s contribution to the field.

The given research article summary example depicts how the text can be structured in a laconic and effective way.

Structure Types  

So, now you can see the best practices and structure types for writing both empirical and argumentative summaries. The only thing left to discuss is to go through our example outlined above and divide its structure into distinctive parts, which you could use when writing your own summary.

The best way to start is by mentioning the title and the author of the article. It’s best to keep it straightforward: “ In “Who Will Be In Cyberspace”, author Langdon Winner takes a philosophical approach…”

The next part is critical for writing a good summary since you’ll want to captivate the reader with a short and concise one-point thesis. If you look at our example, you’ll see that the first sentence or two contains the main point, along with the title and the author’s name.

So, that’s an easy way to get straight to the point while also sounding professional, and this works for all the essay structure types. You should briefly point out the main supportive points as well – “ He supports this through the claims that people working in the information industry should be more careful about newly developed technologies…”  

The key is to keep it neutral and not overcomplicate things with supportive claims. Try to make them as precise as possible and provide examples that directly support the main thesis.

Unless it’s a scientific article summary where you are requested to provide your take as a researcher, it’s also best to avoid using personal opinions. You can conclude the summary by once again mentioning the main thought of the article, and this time you can make the connection between the main thesis and supporting points to wrap up.

Summary Writing Tips and Best Practices

The way in which you’ll approach writing a summary depends on the type and topic of the original article, but there are some common points to keep in mind. Whether you are trying to summarize a research article or a journal piece, these tips can help you stay on topic:

  • Be concise – The best way to summarize an article quickly is to be straightforward. In practice, it means making it all in a few sentences and no longer than one-fourth of the size of the original article.
  • Highlight the study’s most significant findings – For your summary paper, prioritize presenting results that have the most substantial impact or contribute significantly to the field.
  • Create a reverse outline – On the other hand, you can also remove the supporting writing to end up with a reverse essay outline and these are the ideas you can expand on through your summary.
  • Use your own words – In most cases, a paper summary will be scanned for plagiarism, so you need to make sure you are using your words to express the main point uniquely. This doesn’t mean you have to provide your perspective on the topic. It just means your summary needs to be original.
  • Make sure to follow the tone – Summarizing an article means you’ll also need to reflect on the tone of the original piece. To properly summarize an article, you should address the same tone in which the author is addressing the audience.
  • Use author tags – Along with the thesis statement, you also have to express the author’s take through author tags. This means you need to state the name of the author and piece title at the beginning, and keep adding these “tags” like “he” or “she” or simply refer to the author by name when expressing their ideas.
  • Avoid minor details – To ensure you stay on topic, it’s recommended that you avoid repetition, any minor details, or descriptive elements. Try to keep the focus on key points, main statements and ideas without being carried away in thought.
  • Steer clear of interpretations or personal opinions – Avoid personal interpretations or opinions when you write a summary for a research paper. Remember to stick to presenting facts and findings without injecting subjective views.
  • Highlight the research context – Focus on explaining to the readers why research is important. Your summary of research paper must not repeat the previous studies. Find the gap in the existing literature it could fill. When you write a summary of a research article, try to help readers understand the significance of your study within the broader academic or practical context. Use a paraphraser if you need a fresh perspective on your writing style.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Just like it’s important to  avoid plagiarism in your text , there are a few other mistakes that commonly occur. The whole point is to summarize article pieces genuinely, with a focus on the author’s argument and writing in your own words.

We’ve often seen college graduates do an article summary and misrepresent the author’s idea or take, so that’s an important piece of advice. You should avoid drifting away from the author’s main idea throughout the summary and keep it precise but not too short.

Quotes shouldn’t be used directly within the piece, and by that, we mean both quotes from the author and quotes from other summaries on the same topic since it would qualify as plagiarism. Finally, you shouldn’t state your opinion unless you are doing a summary of a novel or short story with a specific academic goal of writing from your perspective.

Examples of Article Summaries

While our guide and tips can be used for a variety of different types of written pieces, there are various types of articles. From professional essay writing to informative article synopsis, options can vary.

We will give you an example of a summary of the different article types that you may run upon, so you can see exactly what we mean by those standardized instructions and tips:


The question of how to summarize an article isn’t new to students or even writers with more experience, so we hope this guide will shed some light on the process. The most important piece of advice we can give you is to stay true to the main statement and key points of the article and express the synopsis in your original way to avoid plagiarism.

As for the structure, we are certain you’ll be able to use our examples and layouts for different types of summaries, so make sure to pay extra attention to the structure, quotes, and author tags.

What is a good way to start a summary?

To begin a summary effectively, start by briefly introducing the article’s topic and the main points the author discusses. Capture the reader’s attention with a concise yet engaging opening sentence. Provide context and mention the author’s name and the article’s title. Convey the essence of the article’s content, highlighting its significance or relevance to the reader. This initial context-setting sentence lays the foundation for a clear and engaging summary that draws the reader in.

What is the difference between summarizing and criticizing an article?

Summarizing an article entails condensing its main points objectively and neutrally, presenting the essential information to readers. In contrast, critiquing an article involves a more in-depth evaluation, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, methodology, and overall quality, often including the expression of personal opinions and judgments. Summarization offers a snapshot of the content, while critique delves deeper, offering a comprehensive assessment.

When summarizing a text, focus on these critical questions:

  • “What’s the main point?” Find the core message or argument.
  • “What supports the main point?” Identify key supporting details and evidence.
  • “Who’s the author?” Consider their qualifications and potential bias.
  • “Who’s the intended audience?” Understand the expected reader’s knowledge level.
  • “Why is it important?” Explain the text’s relevance and significance within its context. Addressing these questions ensures a thorough and effective summary.

How long is a summary and how many paragraphs does a summary have?

A summary typically ranges from one to three paragraphs in length, depending on the complexity and length of the original text. The goal is to concisely present the main points or essence of the source material, usually resulting in a summary that is significantly shorter than the original.

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Writing Article Summaries

  • Understanding Article Summaries 

Common Problems in Article Summaries

Read carefully and closely, structure of the summary, writing the summary.

  • Sample Outlines and Paragraphs

Understanding Article Summaries

An article summary is a short, focused paper about one scholarly article that is informed by a critical reading of that article. For argumentative articles, the summary identifies, explains, and analyses the thesis and supporting arguments; for empirical articles, the summary identifies, explains, and analyses the research questions, methods, findings, and implications of the study.

Although article summaries are often short and rarely account for a large portion of your grade, they are a strong indicator of your reading and writing skills. Professors ask you to write article summaries to help you to develop essential skills in critical reading, summarizing, and clear, organized writing. Furthermore, an article summary requires you to read a scholarly article quite closely, which provides a useful introduction to the conventions of writing in your discipline (e.g. Political Studies, Biology, or Anthropology).

The most common problem that students have when writing an article summary is that they misunderstand the goal of the assignment. In an article summary, your job is to write about the article, not about the actual topic of the article. For example, if you are summarizing Smith’s article about the causes of the Bubonic plague in Europe, your summary should be about Smith’s article: What does she want to find out about the plague? What evidence does she use? What is her argument? You are not writing a paper about the actual causes of Bubonic plague in Europe.

Further, as a part of critical reading, you will often consider your own position on a topic or an argument; it is tempting to include an assessment or opinion about the thesis or findings, but this is not the goal of an article summary. Rather, you must identify, explain, and analyse the main point and how it is supported.

Your key to success in writing an article summary is your understanding of the article; therefore, it is essential to read carefully and closely. The Academic Skills Centre offers helpful instruction on the steps for critical reading: pre-reading, active and analytical reading, and reflection.

Argumentative Articles

As you read an argumentative article, consider the following questions:

  • What is the topic?
  • What is the research question? In other words, what is the author trying to find out about that topic?
  • How does the author position his/her article in relation to other studies of the topic?
  • What is the thesis or position? What are the supporting arguments?
  • How are supporting arguments developed? What kind of evidence is used?
  • What is the significance of the author’s thesis? What does it help you to understand about the topic?

Empirical Articles

As you read an empirical article, consider the following questions:

  • What is the research question?
  • What are the predictions and the rationale for these predictions?
  • What methods were used (participants, sampling, materials, procedure)? What were the variables and controls?
  • What were the main results?
  • Are the findings supported by previous research?
  • What are the limitations of the study?
  • What are the implications or applications of the findings?

Create a Reverse Outline

Creating a reverse outline is one way to ensure that you fully understand the article. Pre-read the article (read the abstract, introduction, and/or conclusion). Summarize the main question(s) and thesis or findings. Skim subheadings and topic sentences to understand the organization; make notes in the margins about each section. Read each paragraph within a section; make short notes about the main idea or purpose of each paragraph. This strategy will help you to see how parts of the article connect to the main idea or the whole of the article.

A summary is written in paragraph form and generally does not include subheadings. An introduction is important to clearly identify the article, the topic, the question or purpose of the article, and its thesis or findings. The body paragraphs for a summary of an argumentative article will explain how arguments and evidence support the thesis. Alternatively, the body paragraphs of an empirical article summary may explain the methods and findings, making connections to predictions. The conclusion explains the significance of the argument or implications of the findings. This structure ensures that your summary is focused and clear.

Professors will often give you a list of required topics to include in your summary and/or explain how they want you to organize your summary. Make sure you read the assignment sheet with care and adapt the sample outlines below accordingly.

One significant challenge in writing an article summary is deciding what information or examples from the article to include. Remember, article summaries are much shorter than the article itself. You do not have the space to explain every point the author makes. Instead, you will need to explain the author’s main points and find a few excellent examples that illustrate these points.

You should also keep in mind that article summaries need to be written in your own words. Scholarly writing can use complex terminology to explain complicated ideas, which makes it difficult to understand and to summarize correctly. In the face of difficult text, many students tend to use direct quotations, saving them the time and energy required to understand and reword it. However, a summary requires you to summarize, which means “to state briefly or succinctly” (Oxford English Dictionary) the main ideas presented in a text. The brevity must come from you, in your own words, which demonstrates that you understand the article.

Sample Outlines and Paragraph

Sample outline for an argumentative article summary.

  • General topic of article
  • Author’s research question or approach to the topic
  • Author’s thesis
  • Explain some key points and how they support the thesis
  • Provide a key example or two that the author uses as evidence to support these points
  • Review how the main points work together to support the thesis?
  • How does the author explain the significance or implications of his/her article?

Sample Outline for an Empirical Article Summary

  • General topic of study
  • Author’s research question
  • Variables and hypotheses
  • Participants
  • Experiment design
  • Materials used
  • Key results
  • Did the results support the hypotheses?
  • Implications or applications of the study
  • Major limitations of the study

Sample Paragraph

The paragraph below is an example of an introductory paragraph from a summary of an empirical article:

Tavernier and Willoughby’s (2014) study explored the relationships between university students’ sleep and their intrapersonal, interpersonal, and educational development. While the authors cited many scholars who have explored these relationships, they pointed out that most of these studies focused on unidirectional correlations over a short period of time. In contrast, Tavernier and Willoughby tested whether there was a bidirectional or unidirectional association between participants’ sleep quality and duration and several psychosocial factors including intrapersonal adjustment, friendship quality, and academic achievement. Further they conducted a longitudinal study over a period of three years in order to determine whether there were changes in the strength or direction of these associations over time. They predicted that sleep quality would correlate with measures of intrapersonal adjustment, friendship quality, and academic achievement; they further hypothesized that this correlation would be bidirectional: sleep quality would predict psychosocial measures and at the same time, psychosocial measures would predict sleep quality.

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  • How to Write a Summary | Guide & Examples

How to Write a Summary | Guide & Examples

Published on 25 September 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 12 May 2023.

Summarising , or writing a summary, means giving a concise overview of a text’s main points in your own words. A summary is always much shorter than the original text.

There are five key steps that can help you to write a summary:

  • Read the text
  • Break it down into sections
  • Identify the key points in each section
  • Write the summary
  • Check the summary against the article

Writing a summary does not involve critiquing or analysing the source. You should simply provide an accurate account of the most important information and ideas (without copying any text from the original).

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Table of contents

When to write a summary, step 1: read the text, step 2: break the text down into sections, step 3: identify the key points in each section, step 4: write the summary, step 5: check the summary against the article, frequently asked questions.

There are many situations in which you might have to summarise an article or other source:

  • As a stand-alone assignment to show you’ve understood the material
  • To keep notes that will help you remember what you’ve read
  • To give an overview of other researchers’ work in a literature review

When you’re writing an academic text like an essay , research paper , or dissertation , you’ll integrate sources in a variety of ways. You might use a brief quote to support your point, or paraphrase a few sentences or paragraphs.

But it’s often appropriate to summarize a whole article or chapter if it is especially relevant to your own research, or to provide an overview of a source before you analyse or critique it.

In any case, the goal of summarising is to give your reader a clear understanding of the original source. Follow the five steps outlined below to write a good summary.

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You should read the article more than once to make sure you’ve thoroughly understood it. It’s often effective to read in three stages:

  • Scan the article quickly to get a sense of its topic and overall shape.
  • Read the article carefully, highlighting important points and taking notes as you read.
  • Skim the article again to confirm you’ve understood the key points, and reread any particularly important or difficult passages.

There are some tricks you can use to identify the key points as you read:

  • Start by reading the abstract . This already contains the author’s own summary of their work, and it tells you what to expect from the article.
  • Pay attention to headings and subheadings . These should give you a good sense of what each part is about.
  • Read the introduction and the conclusion together and compare them: What did the author set out to do, and what was the outcome?

To make the text more manageable and understand its sub-points, break it down into smaller sections.

If the text is a scientific paper that follows a standard empirical structure, it is probably already organised into clearly marked sections, usually including an introduction, methods, results, and discussion.

Other types of articles may not be explicitly divided into sections. But most articles and essays will be structured around a series of sub-points or themes.

Now it’s time go through each section and pick out its most important points. What does your reader need to know to understand the overall argument or conclusion of the article?

Keep in mind that a summary does not involve paraphrasing every single paragraph of the article. Your goal is to extract the essential points, leaving out anything that can be considered background information or supplementary detail.

In a scientific article, there are some easy questions you can ask to identify the key points in each part.

If the article takes a different form, you might have to think more carefully about what points are most important for the reader to understand its argument.

In that case, pay particular attention to the thesis statement —the central claim that the author wants us to accept, which usually appears in the introduction—and the topic sentences that signal the main idea of each paragraph.

Now that you know the key points that the article aims to communicate, you need to put them in your own words.

To avoid plagiarism and show you’ve understood the article, it’s essential to properly paraphrase the author’s ideas. Do not copy and paste parts of the article, not even just a sentence or two.

The best way to do this is to put the article aside and write out your own understanding of the author’s key points.

Examples of article summaries

Let’s take a look at an example. Below, we summarise this article , which scientifically investigates the old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’.

An article summary like the above would be appropriate for a stand-alone summary assignment. However, you’ll often want to give an even more concise summary of an article.

For example, in a literature review or research paper, you may want to briefly summarize this study as part of a wider discussion of various sources. In this case, we can boil our summary down even further to include only the most relevant information.

Citing the source you’re summarizing

When including a summary as part of a larger text, it’s essential to properly cite the source you’re summarizing. The exact format depends on your citation style , but it usually includes an in-text citation and a full reference at the end of your paper.

You can easily create your citations and references in APA or MLA using our free citation generators.

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Finally, read through the article once more to ensure that:

  • You’ve accurately represented the author’s work
  • You haven’t missed any essential information
  • The phrasing is not too similar to any sentences in the original.

If you’re summarising many articles as part of your own work, it may be a good idea to use a plagiarism checker to double-check that your text is completely original and properly cited. Just be sure to use one that’s safe and reliable.

A summary is a short overview of the main points of an article or other source, written entirely in your own words.

Save yourself some time with the free summariser.

A summary is always much shorter than the original text. The length of a summary can range from just a few sentences to several paragraphs; it depends on the length of the article you’re summarising, and on the purpose of the summary.

With the summariser tool you can easily adjust the length of your summary.

You might have to write a summary of a source:

  • As a stand-alone assignment to prove you understand the material
  • For your own use, to keep notes on your reading
  • To provide an overview of other researchers’ work in a literature review
  • In a paper , to summarise or introduce a relevant study

To avoid plagiarism when summarising an article or other source, follow these two rules:

  • Write the summary entirely in your own words by   paraphrasing the author’s ideas.
  • Reference the source with an in-text citation and a full reference so your reader can easily find the original text.

An abstract concisely explains all the key points of an academic text such as a thesis , dissertation or journal article. It should summarise the whole text, not just introduce it.

An abstract is a type of summary , but summaries are also written elsewhere in academic writing . For example, you might summarise a source in a paper , in a literature review , or as a standalone assignment.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the ‘Cite this Scribbr article’ button to automatically add the citation to our free Reference Generator.

McCombes, S. (2023, May 12). How to Write a Summary | Guide & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 21 May 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/working-sources/how-to-write-a-summary/

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Writing a Summary – Explanation & Examples

Published by Alvin Nicolas at October 17th, 2023 , Revised On October 17, 2023

In a world bombarded with vast amounts of information, condensing and presenting data in a digestible format becomes invaluable. Enter summaries. 

A summary is a brief and concise account of the main points of a larger body of work. It distils complex ideas, narratives, or data into a version that is quicker to read and easier to understand yet still retains the essence of the original content.

Importance of Summaries

The importance of summarising extends far beyond just making reading more manageable. In academic settings, summaries aid students in understanding and retaining complex materials, from textbook chapters to research articles. They also serve as tools to showcase one’s grasp of the subject in essays and reports. 

In professional arenas, summaries are pivotal in business reports, executive briefings, and even emails where key points need to be conveyed quickly to decision-makers. Meanwhile, summarising skills come into play in our personal lives when we relay news stories to friends, recap a movie plot, or even scroll through condensed news or app notifications on our smartphones.

Why Do We Write Summaries?

In our modern information age, the sheer volume of content available can be overwhelming. From detailed research papers to comprehensive news articles, the quest for knowledge is often met with lengthy and complex resources. This is where the power of a well-crafted summary comes into play. But what drives us to create or seek out summaries? Let’s discuss.

Makes Important Things Easy to Remember

At the heart of summarisation is the goal to understand. A well-written summary aids in digesting complex material. By distilling larger works into their core points, we reinforce the primary messages, making them easier to remember. This is especially crucial for students who need to retain knowledge for exams or professionals prepping for a meeting based on a lengthy report.

Simplification of Complex Topics

Not everyone is an expert in every field. Often, topics come laden with jargon, intricate details, and nuanced arguments. Summaries act as a bridge, translating this complexity into accessible and straightforward content. This is especially beneficial for individuals new to a topic or those who need just the highlights without the intricacies.

Aid in Researching and Understanding Diverse Sources

Researchers, writers, and academics often wade through many sources when working on a project. This involves finding sources of different types, such as primary or secondary sources , and then understanding their content. Sifting through each source in its entirety can be time-consuming. Summaries offer a streamlined way to understand each source’s main arguments or findings, making synthesising information from diverse materials more efficient.

Condensing Information for Presentation or Sharing

In professional settings, there is often a need to present findings, updates, or recommendations to stakeholders. An executive might not have the time to go through a 50-page report, but they would certainly appreciate a concise summary highlighting the key points. Similarly, in our personal lives, we often summarise movie plots, book stories, or news events when sharing with friends or family.

Characteristics of a Good Summary

Crafting an effective summary is an art. It’s more than just shortening a piece of content; it is about capturing the essence of the original work in a manner that is both accessible and true to its intent. Let’s explore the primary characteristics that distinguish a good summary from a mediocre one:


At the core of a summary is the concept of brevity. But being concise doesn’t mean leaving out vital information. A good summary will:

  • Eliminate superfluous details or repetitive points.
  • Focus on the primary arguments, events, or findings.
  • Use succinct language without compromising the message.


Summarising is not about infusing personal opinions or interpretations. A quality summary will:

  • Stick to the facts as presented in the original content.
  • Avoid introducing personal biases or perspectives.
  • Represent the original author’s intent faithfully.

A summary is meant to simplify and make content accessible. This is only possible if the summary itself is easy to understand. Ensuring clarity involves:

  • Avoiding jargon or technical terms unless they are essential to the content. If they are used, they should be clearly defined.
  • Structuring sentences in a straightforward manner.
  • Making sure ideas are presented in a way that even someone unfamiliar with the topic can grasp the primary points.

A jumble of ideas, no matter how concise, will not make for a good summary. Coherence ensures that there’s a logical flow to the summarised content. A coherent summary will:

  • Maintain a logical sequence, often following the structure of the original content.
  • Use transition words or phrases to connect ideas and ensure smooth progression.
  • Group related ideas together to provide structure and avoid confusion.

Steps of Writing a Summary

The process of creating a compelling summary is not merely about cutting down content. It involves understanding, discerning, and crafting. Here is a step-by-step guide to writing a summary that encapsulates the essence of the original work:

Reading Actively

Engage deeply with the content to ensure a thorough understanding.

  • Read the entire document or work first to grasp its overall intent and structure.
  • On the second read, underline or highlight the standout points or pivotal moments.
  • Make brief notes in the margins or on a separate sheet, capturing the core ideas in your own words.

Identifying the Main Idea

Determine the backbone of the content, around which all other details revolve.

  • Ask yourself: “What is the primary message or theme the author wants to convey?”
  • This can often be found in the title, introduction, or conclusion of a piece.
  • Frame the main idea in a clear and concise statement to guide your summary.

List Key Supporting Points

Understand the pillars that uphold the main idea, providing evidence or depth to the primary message.

  • Refer back to the points you underlined or highlighted during your active reading.
  • Note major arguments, evidence, or examples that the author uses to back up the main idea.
  • Prioritise these points based on their significance to the main idea.

Draft the Summary

Convert your understanding into a condensed, coherent version of the original.

  • Start with a statement of the main idea.
  • Follow with the key supporting points, maintaining logical order.
  • Avoid including trivial details or examples unless they’re crucial to the primary message.
  • Use your own words, ensuring you are not plagiarising the original content.

Fine-tune your draft to ensure clarity, accuracy, and brevity.

  • Read your draft aloud to check for flow and coherence.
  • Ensure that your summary remains objective, avoiding any personal interpretations or biases.
  • Check the length. See if any non-essential details can be removed without sacrificing understanding if it is too lengthy.
  • Ensure clarity by ensuring the language is straightforward, and the main ideas are easily grasped.

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Dos and Don’ts of Summarising Key Points

Summarising, while seemingly straightforward, comes with its nuances. Properly condensing content demands a balance between brevity and fidelity to the original work. To aid in crafting exemplary summaries, here is a guide on the essential dos and don’ts:

Use your Own Words

This ensures that you have truly understood the content and are not merely parroting it. It also prevents issues of plagiarism.

Tip: After reading the original content, take a moment to reflect on it. Then, without looking at the source, write down the main points in your own words.

Attribute Sources Properly

Giving credit is both ethical and provides context to readers, helping them trace back to the original work if needed. How to cite sources correctly is a skill every writer should master.

Tip: Use signal phrases like “According to [Author/Source]…” or “As [Author/Source] points out…” to seamlessly incorporate attributions.

Ensure Accuracy of the Summarised Content

A summary should be a reliable reflection of the original content. Distorting or misrepresenting the original ideas compromises the integrity of the summary.

Tip: After drafting your summary, cross-check with the original content to ensure all key points are represented accurately and ensure you are referencing credible sources .

Avoid Copy-Pasting Chunks of Original Content

This not only raises plagiarism concerns but also shows a lack of genuine engagement with the material.

Tip: If a particular phrase or sentence from the original is pivotal and cannot be reworded without losing its essence, use block quotes , quotation marks, and attribute the source.

Do not Inject your Personal Opinion

A summary should be an objective reflection of the source material. Introducing personal biases or interpretations can mislead readers.

Tip: Stick to the facts and arguments presented in the original content. If you find yourself writing “I think” or “In my opinion,” reevaluate the sentence.

Do not Omit Crucial Information

While a summary is meant to be concise, it shouldn’t be at the expense of vital details that are essential to understanding the original content’s core message.

Tip: Prioritise information. Always include the main idea and its primary supports. If you are unsure whether a detail is crucial, consider its impact on the overall message.

Examples of Summaries

Here are a few examples that will help you get a clearer view of how to write a summary. 

Example 1: Summary of a News Article

Original Article: The article reports on the recent discovery of a rare species of frog in the Amazon rainforest. The frog, named the “Emerald Whisperer” due to its unique green hue and the soft chirping sounds it makes, was found by a team of researchers from the University of Texas. The discovery is significant as it offers insights into the biodiversity of the region, and the Emerald Whisperer might also play a pivotal role in understanding the ecosystem balance.

Summary: Researchers from the University of Texas have discovered a unique frog, termed the “Emerald Whisperer,” in the Amazon rainforest. This finding sheds light on the region’s biodiversity and underscores the importance of the frog in ecological studies.

Example 2: Summary of a Research Paper

Original Paper: In a study titled “The Impact of Urbanisation on Bee Populations,” researchers conducted a year-long observation on bee colonies in three urban areas and three rural areas. Using specific metrics like colony health, bee productivity, and population size, the study found that urban environments saw a 30% decline in bee populations compared to rural settings. The research attributes this decline to factors like pollution, reduced green spaces, and increased temperatures in urban areas.

Summary: A study analysing the effects of urbanisation on bee colonies found a significant 30% decrease in bee populations in urban settings compared to rural areas. The decline is linked to urban factors such as pollution, diminished greenery, and elevated temperatures.

Example 3: Summary of a Novel

Original Story: In the novel “Winds of Fate,” protagonist Clara is trapped in a timeless city where memories dictate reality. Throughout her journey, she encounters characters from her past, present, and imagined future. Battling her own perceptions and a menacing shadow figure, Clara seeks an elusive gateway to return to her real world. In the climax, she confronts the shadow, which turns out to be her own fear, and upon overcoming it, she finds her way back, realising that reality is subjective.

Summary: “Winds of Fate” follows Clara’s adventures in a surreal city shaped by memories. Confronting figures from various phases of her life and battling a symbolic shadow of her own fear, Clara eventually discovers that reality’s perception is malleable and subjective.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is a summary.

A summary condenses a larger piece of content, capturing its main points and essence.  It is usually one-fourth of the original content.

What is a summary?

A summary is a concise representation of a larger text or content, highlighting its main ideas and points. It distils complex information into a shorter form, allowing readers to quickly grasp the essence of the original material without delving into extensive details. Summaries prioritise clarity, brevity, and accuracy.

When should I write a summary?

Write a summary when you need to condense lengthy content for easier comprehension and recall. It’s useful in academic settings, professional reports, presentations, and research to highlight key points. Summaries aid in comparing multiple sources, preparing for discussions, and sharing essential details of extensive materials efficiently with others.

How can I summarise a source without plagiarising?

To summarise without plagiarising: Read the source thoroughly, understand its main ideas, and then write the summary in your own words. Avoid copying phrases verbatim. Attribute the source properly. Use paraphrasing techniques and cross-check your summary against the original to ensure distinctiveness while retaining accuracy. Always prioritise understanding over direct replication.

What is the difference between a summary and an abstract?

A summary condenses a text, capturing its main points from various content types like books, articles, or movies. An abstract, typically found in research papers and scientific articles, provides a brief overview of the study’s purpose, methodology, results, and conclusions. Both offer concise versions, but abstracts are more structured and specific.

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When researching or exploring a new topic, the distinction between primary and secondary sources is paramount. The validity, reliability, and relevance of the information you gather will heavily depend on the type of source you consult. 

A secondary source refers to any material that interprets, analyses, or reviews information originally presented elsewhere. Unlike primary sources, which offer direct evidence or first-hand testimony, secondary sources work on those original materials, offering commentary, critiques, and perspectives.






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Getting Started: Listing Topics to Write about in the Tutorial

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On Using the Resources for Writers

Generating and Developing Ideas

Finding/Expressing Main Ideas

Showing v. Telling Sentences

Focusing Topic Sentences

Thesis Statements

Reading Strategies

Assessing Your Reading Strategies


Writing Effective Summary and Response Essays

Discourse Analysis Worksheet

Trade Magazines

Selecting Readings

A summary is a concise paraphrase of all the main ideas in an essay. It cites the author and the title (usually in the first sentence); it contains the essay's thesis and supporting ideas; it may use direct quotation of forceful or concise statements of the author's ideas; it will NOT usually cite the author's examples or supporting details unless they are central to the main idea. Most summaries present the major points in the order that the author made them and continually refer back to the article being summarized (i.e. "Damon argues that ..." or "Goodman also points out that ... "). The summary should take up no more than one-third the length of the work being summarized.

The Response:

A response is a critique or evaluation of the author's essay. Unlike the summary, it is composed of YOUR opinions in relation to the article being summarized. It examines ideas that you agree or disagree with and identifies the essay's strengths and weaknesses in reasoning and logic, in quality of supporting examples, and in organization and style. A good response is persuasive; therefore, it should cite facts, examples, and personal experience that either refutes or supports the article you're responding to, depending on your stance.

Two Typical Organizational Formats for Summary/Response Essays:

1. Present the summary in a block of paragraphs, followed by the response in a block:

Intro/thesis Summary (two to three paragraphs) Agreement (or disagreement) Disagreement (or agreement) Conclusion

Note: Some essays will incorporate both agreement and disagreement in a response, but this is not mandatory.

2. Introduce the essay with a short paragraph that includes your thesis. Then, each body paragraph summarizes one point and responds to it, and a conclusion wraps the essay up.

Intro/thesis Summary point one; agree/disagree Summary point two; agree/disagree Summary point three; agree/disagree Conclusion

how to write a summary

A step-by-step guide to writing a great summary.

A summary of a literary work isn't just a plain-old synopsis. It's a valuable study tool, a foundational element of all kinds of essays, a common testing mechanism, and one of the basics of literary analysis. 

Whether you're in high school or college, developing a deep understanding of how and when to summarize a book or text is a valuable skill. Doing so might require a little more knowledge and effort than you'd think. 

That's why we're covering all aspects of summaries, from study tools to plot summaries, below.

What Is a Summary?

A summary is a brief overview of a text (or movie, speech, podcast, etcetera) that succinctly and comprehensively covers the main ideas or plot points. 

Sounds simple, right? Well, there are a lot of unique characteristics that differentiate summaries from other commentary, such as analyses, book reviews, or outlines. 

Summaries are: 

  • In your own words. It's important that you don't just copy and paste the writer's words (in fact, that's plagiarizing). Writing the key points of a work in your own words indicates your comprehension and absorption of the material. 
  • Objective. While a summary should be in your own words, it shouldn't contain your opinions. Instead, you should gather the main points and intentions of the writer and present them impartially. (If you include your opinions, it instead becomes an analysis or review.)
  • More than paraphrasing. Many students fall into the trap of simply paraphrasing—plainly restating the ideas or events of the work. (Is our definition starting to sound contradictory? We told you it wasn't straightforward!) Rather than recounting the events or ideas in a work chronologically or in the order they're presented, instead consider the broad scope of how they all contribute to the narrative or argument. 
  • Short. There are no strict rules regarding length, only that it is concise. It's largely dependent on the length of the text it summarizes: longer texts, longer summaries. It also depends on the assignment or objective. However, most are about one to two paragraphs in length. 
  • Comprehensive. Yes, it's another seemingly contradictory descriptor, but an important one. Summaries are comprehensive, meaning they cover all of the main plot points or ideas in a work (so they inherently contain "spoilers"). You should present those ideas in a way that condenses them into an inclusive, but not exhaustive, recounting in order to keep it short.  
  • Straightforward (even if the text isn't). A good summary should be easy to comprehend, presenting the reader with a simple but all-encompassing understanding of the work at hand. With complex texts, summaries can be particularly useful because they distill big, complicated ideas into a bite-sized package. 

When to Write a Summary

Like so many elements of literary analysis, summaries are misunderstood. We've already explained why they aren't as simple as most people think, but neither are their uses. 

Summary writing is a useful skill in a variety of circumstances, both in and outside the English and Language Arts classrooms. 

Readers, writers, teachers, and students can use summaries: 

  • As a study tactic. The ability to summarize a book or text indicates that you've absorbed and understand the material. Plus, writing down notes (as in a summary) is a great way to retain material. Try summarizing at the end of a book chapter, after each section of an article, or periodically in textbooks. Doing so will help you digest the material you've just read, confirming you understood and retained the information therein. Stopping frequently to summarize is most effective because you're less likely to forget important plot points or ideas. 
  • As an assignment. Teachers and professors often ask students to summarize a text as a test to confirm they read and understood the material. Before heading into class—especially if you have a test or quiz scheduled—try practicing summarizing the text. Write it down (rather than practicing it out loud or in your head) so that you can review your ideas and ensure you're presenting them succinctly and sensibly. 
  • As part of an essay. If you're referencing a book or article in your own paper, you might need to summarize the source as the foundation for your argument. In this case, your summary should be particularly short so the reader doesn't lose sight of your own argument and intention. Introduce the name of the work and its author, then use one sentence (two at most) to describe their objective and how it relates to your own. 
  • As part of a review. Summaries are very useful in an academic setting, but they have their place outside of it too. Whether you're on a book review site or just sharing a recommendation with a friend, being able to succinctly write a book summary (with or without spoilers) will help others to make their own judgements of a book. 

Your Step-by-Step Guide for How to Write a Summary

Step 1: read the work .

Summaries are often perceived as a workaround for reading the work itself. That's not a great strategy under most circumstances because you tend to lose a lot of the details and nuance of a work, but it's particularly impractical to do so when writing about the work. 

Remember, a summary is supposed to present your perception of the work as a whole. So in order to develop that perception, you have to first read the original text. 

Step 2: Take Notes 

As you read the work, simultaneously take notes. If you own the book, it might be helpful to add your notes to the margins or highlight passages that are particularly relevant or capture a key idea. If you don't own the book, try taking notes on your computer or in a notebook. You can still notate important passages by writing down the page and paragraph number or writing an abbreviated version of the quotation. Alternatively, try marking key passages with sticky notes or tabs. 

It might also be helpful to write out a short outline of the work as you go. While you won't want to use this verbatim (remember, you shouldn't just paraphrase the work), it can help you establish and remember the text's framework. 

Step 3: Identify the Author's Thesis Statement, Objective, or Main Point 

In some works, such as a journal article, a writer will provide a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a one-sentence synopsis of the author's argument and intention. A thesis statement can be really helpful in forming the backbone of your own summary, just as it forms the backbone of the essay. 

However, even when a thesis statement isn't present—like in a novel—the writer always has an objective or main idea. You should always identify this idea and use it to form the foundation of your summary. 

The main point might be apparent at the outset of the work. Other times, the author won't present it until the conclusion. Sometimes you might identify multiple objectives throughout the work. That's why it's important, as you read, to note any ideas that might be the  main  idea. Even those that aren't the  most  important will likely remain relevant. 

Step 4: Note Other Important Elements

If something stands out to you about the work and seems to play an important role in the text's overall narrative or structure, make a note about it. This could be a recurring theme, an incident in the storyline, or a deviation from the overall argument. 

As you identify and note important elements and moments in the work, the structure of your summary should begin to fall into place. 

Step 5: Prepare to Write Your Summary 

Once you've finished reading the work, review your notes and highlight the key points that came to light. Remember, your summary should be objective, so disregard any opinions you might have noted about the work. You should introduce the thesis or objective, briefly encapsulate the important ideas and moments from the work, and end with a conclusion that ties those ideas to the objective. Keep this structure in mind as you begin. 

Step 6: Begin by Introducing the Work 

As you begin, introduce the work, its author, and, if relevant, the context.

Depending on your situation—for example, if your teacher or professor has asked you to summarize a work as part of an assignment or quiz—this might seem redundant. However, it is standard practice to begin by introducing the work, even if the reader already knows what you're writing about. 

Example:  In  The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald... 

Step 7: Present the Thesis, Main Idea, or Central Argument

Once you've introduced the work, your priority is to clearly define the author's thesis, important point, or central argument. As mentioned above, sometimes the author presents this idea clearly and succinctly at the outset of their work; at other times, it's buried deep in the text. 

Regardless of how the main idea is presented in the work, it should be front and center in your summary. Some teachers might refer to this as a "topic sentence" or "introductory sentence." This is the central point around which you will construct the rest of your writing. As you progress, you'll highlight other ideas or occurrences that relate or contribute to this main idea, so it's important that your representation of it is easily understood. 

Example:  In  The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the story of Jay Gatsby as a symbol of the social stratification, greed, and indulgence of 1920s America. 

Step 8: Briefly Discuss the Important Elements of the Work

After identifying the thesis or central argument, you should provide a brief overview of the work's other elements, ideas, and plot points. For the most part, the information you present throughout this section should bolster the thesis presented previously. Each sentence should serve as a supporting point for the topic sentence. Don't simply list ideas or plot points, but show how they're connected and inform the work as a whole. Of course, there may also be important elements of the work that are not directly tied to the main idea; it's ok to include these if you feel they are vital to understanding the work.

When writing the body, you should consciously and intentionally leave out unnecessary details. They tend to bog down your writing and lose the reader. 

Example:  The narrator, Nick Carraway, moves to New York's "West Egg," where he reunites with his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan. Fitzgerald clearly delineates social lines between West Egg (new money) and East Egg (old money), where Tom and Daisy reside. 
Nick attends a lavish party thrown by his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, and learns Jay formerly had a relationship with Daisy. The two reignite their forbidden affair. Tom reveals to Daisy that Gatsby earned his money illegally, through smuggling alcohol, and is actually a man of humble Midwestern origins. Daisy and Gatsby try to run away together, but Daisy accidentally runs over Tom's mistress. Tom, eager to exact revenge, convinces his mistress' husband that Gatsby was to blame in her death, and he murders Gatsby before committing suicide. Few of Gatsby's many friends attend his funeral.

Step 9: Write a Conclusion that Ties It All Together

Much like you introduce the author's major point at the outset of your summary, you should revisit it as you close out your writing. If you presented the author's main idea in the introduction, and then bolstered that main idea by recollecting plot points or important elements from the work, your conclusion should then reiterate how those elements relate to the main idea. 

Example:  Though Gatsby subscribed to the extravagance of his peers, his efforts to fit into the upper echelon of West and East Egg were negated by his humble origins; always out of place, he was rejected for his social class as much as his perceived crimes.  

Step 10: Edit

Before submitting your work, read it in full, and edit out any superfluous and redundant information. It's likely that unnecessary details snuck in as you were writing, and you might find that certain plot points just feel unnecessary within the scope of your finished product. 

In addition to editing for content, be sure to edit it closely for grammatical or spelling errors. Even if your summary is well thought out, its expertise is compromised if it's full of errors! 

How to Write a Plot Summary

The step-by-step guide to writing an effective summary, outlined above, applies to most summaries. However, each type has its own unique elements outside of those standard requirements. 

A plot or book summary, for example, should encapsulate the plot of a short story or novel. When writing one, there are unique strategies to follow.  

Dos of Writing a Plot Summary

  • Note plot points as the book or story unfolds. Especially in longer novels, it can be difficult to keep track of the twists and turns in the storyline. That's why we recommend taking notes as you read. 
  • Use online study guides for inspiration. Websites like SuperSummary provide in-depth summaries free of charge. While this is a good starting point when writing your own, it should only be for inspiration. Don't copy examples online (that's plagiarism!). 
  • Be sure to cover the three main arcs of every story: the exposition, climax, and conclusion. The exposition is the moment when the conflict or driving narrative is introduced. The climax is when that conflict comes to a head, and the narrative reaches its most dramatic moments. The conclusion is when the conflict is resolved or the story comes to an end. You should also include any inciting incidents (the first domino in a plot point).
  • Connect the dots. Throughout, you should demonstrate an understanding of how events and characters are related, rather than introducing each element as an independent variable. Remember, you should tie each plot point back to the main idea. 

Don'ts of Writing a Plot Summary

  • Don't just regurgitate the storyline. Rather than drone through the story plot point by plot point, you should highlight key moments in the narrative and direct them back to the author's objective. 
  • Avoid repetitive phrases like "then" or "next." A key indication you're just repeating the storyline point by point is utilizing a phrase like "then" or "next." While you should recount the major incidents of the narrative, it shouldn't feel so formulaic. 
  • Don't let it drag on. Books are long, but summarizing a book should still be short. While it depends on the assignment and the work in question, your summary should be 200 to 600 words, max.
Example :   In  The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the story of Jay Gatsby as a symbol of the social stratification, greed, and indulgence of 1920s America.   The narrator, Nick Carraway, moves to New York's "West Egg," where he reunites with his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan. Fitzgerald clearly delineates social lines between West Egg (new money) and East Egg (old money), where Tom and Daisy reside. 
Nick attends a lavish party thrown by his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, and learns he formerly had a relationship with Daisy. When the two reignite their forbidden affair, disaster ensues. Tom reveals to Daisy that Gatsby earned his money illegally, through smuggling alcohol, and is actually a man of humble Midwestern origins. Daisy and Gatsby try to run away together, but Daisy accidentally runs over Tom's mistress. Tom, eager to exact revenge, convinces his mistress' husband that Gatsby was to blame in her death, and he murders Gatsby before committing suicide. Few of Gatsby's many friends attend his funeral.
Though Gatsby subscribed to the extravagance of his peers, his efforts to fit into the upper echelon of West and East Egg were negated by his humble origins; always out of place, he was rejected for his social class as much as his perceived crimes.

For an in-depth analysis of The Great Gatsby , check out the our study guide (we have an audio guide, too!).

How to Summarize an Article or Essay

The nature of an article or essay is quite different from a novel or short story, and in many ways, your summary should be too. The outline above remains the same, but the details are different. 

Here's what you should and shouldn't do when writing your article summary. 

Dos of Writing an Article Summary

  • Skim the original article first. To develop a basic understanding of the article and the writer's objectives, skim the content before reading it closely. Doing so will help you to identify some of the key points and then pay attention to the arguments around them when you read the article in full. 
  • Then read the article closely, marking key passages and ideas. Noting important ideas as you read will help you develop a deeper understanding of the writer's intentions.  
  • Note headings and subheadings, which likely identify important points. In articles and essays, the author often utilizes subheadings to introduce their most important ideas. These subheadings can help guide your own writing. 
  • Keep it short. The rule of brevity applies to article summaries too. In fact, because articles are usually short compared to novels or books, your text should be correlatively brief. And if you're utilizing the work as part of your own essay or argument, just a couple sentences will do.

Don'ts of Writing an Article Summary

  • Don't ignore the conclusion. When reading a long article or essay, it can be tempting to overlook the conclusion and focus on the body paragraphs of the article. However, the conclusion is often where the author most clearly outlines their findings and why they matter. It can serve as a great foundation for your own writing. 
  • Don't copy anything from the article directly—always paraphrase. If you copy any passages word-for-word from the article, be sure to identify them as quotations and attribute them to the author. Even this should be done sparingly. Instead, you should encapsulate their ideas within your own, abbreviated words.  
  • Don't forget to include proper citations. If you do include a direct quotation from the article, be sure to properly cite them. You can learn how to properly cite quotations in our Academic Citation Resource Guide . 
Example Summary of  "Gatsby as a Drowned Sailor" :  In her essay, "Gatsby as a Drowned Sailor," Margaret Lukens posits that a major, and often overlooked, motif in  The Great Gatsby  is that of the "drowned sailor." The novel, she points out, is immersed in nautical symbols and themes, particularly in the scenes surrounding Jay Gatsby. For example, Gatsby grew up on the shores of Lake Superior, now owns a house on the Long Island Sound, and supposedly spends much of his time on his boat. 
Lukens nods to the nautical imagery throughout Gatsby's lavish party, as well as Nick's interactions with Gatsby. Many of these, she argues, foreshadow Gatsby's death in his pool. Even his funeral is a testament to the motif, with the few attendees soaked to the skin with rain. Lukens presents a thorough case for the overarching nautical motif in  The Great Gatsby  and her argument that though Gatsby hooked a big one, ultimately it was "the one that got away." 

FAQs: How to Write a Book Summary  

How do you summarize without plagiarizing .

By its very nature, a summary isn't plagiarizing because it should be written in your own words. However, there are cases where it might be difficult to identify an appropriate synonym, and the phrase remains somewhat close to the original. In this scenario, just be sure to differentiate the rest of the phrase as much as possible. And if you need to include a direct quote from the work, be sure to appropriately cite it. 

How to write a summary and a reaction? 

In some cases, your teacher may ask you to write a summary and a reaction. Whereas a summary is objective, a reaction is a matter of opinion. So in this case, you should present the actions or ideas of the work, then respond to those actions and ideas with your personal thoughts. 

Why write a summary? 

A summary is a helpful tool many educators use to test their students' comprehension of a text. However, it is also a useful study tactic because recounting what you read can help you organize and retain information. 

example of article summary essay

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Table of Contents

Ai, ethics & human agency, collaboration, information literacy, writing process, examples of effective summaries and paraphrases (mla style).

  • CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 by Joseph M. Moxley - University of South Florida

Sample Contextualizing for the Source

Being Fluent with Information Technology  explores why people need to understand and utilize information technology. Published by The National Academies in 1997, the book is written by the Committee on Information Technology and Literacy, including Lawrence Snyder, University of Washington, Chair; Alfred V. Aho, Lucent Technologies, Inc.; Marcia Linn, University of California at Berkeley; Arnold Packer, Johns Hopkins University; Allen Tucker, Bowdoin College; Jeffrey Ullman, Stanford University; Andries Van Dam.

Sample Quote

In Chapter 1, the Committee explores why people need to understand and utilize information technology, arguing that technological knowledge is especially crucial in the ever-changing workforce: “If the nation is to obtain the maximum benefit from its investments in information technology, a labor pool capable of using it appropriately is necessary” (Committee 7).

Sample Paraphrase

In Chapter 1, the Committee explores why people need to understand and utilize information technology, arguing that technological knowledge is especially crucial in the ever-changing workforce. Interestingly, the Committee notes that the U.S. won’t benefit from revolutionary new technologies unless the labor force is better trained (Committee 7).

Sample of “Qtd. In” Convention (use when your source cites another source)

According to the Committee on Information Technology and Literacy, information technology is a fundamental tool in the work place because “in today’s labor market employees can no longer enjoy a job for life” (7). On the educational front, Papert describes it best when he states that “computers can be means for educators to support the development of new ways of thinking and learning” (qtd. in Committee p.xiv). A democratic society will be better off when the majority of its citizens are informed about the system they live in.

Explanation: The Committee on Information Technology and Literacy cites page xiv from Papert’s text as follows:

Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas . 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Print.

However, it would be dishonest for the reader of Being Fluent with Information Technology to act as if he or she read Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas . As a result, by using the “qtd. in” convention, he or she can indicate that this is a secondary quote, not a primary source.

Sample of “ Paraphrased In” Convention (for use when your source paraphrases another source)

According to the Committee on Information Technology and Literacy, information technology is a fundamental tool in the work place because “in today’s labor market employees can no longer enjoy a job for life” (7). On the educational front, Papert argues that educators can empower students by showing them new ways to think and learn (para. in Committee p.xiv). A democratic society will be better off when the majority of its citizens are informed about the system they live in.

Summary of Entire Work

This book outlines some of the major personal and business uses of information technology. It also makes suggestions about how to gain knowledge in the field, as well as the main points of training employees in information technology to make the use of computers most effective.

Sample Citation :

Committee on Information Technology Literacy. Being Fluent with Information Technology . Washington, D.C.: National Academies P, 1999. Print.

Other Resources to Read Reviews About the Book

  • National Academies Press Web site : Offers a complete online copy of the book as well as a brief description of its contents.
  • Amazon.com review : Offers online reviews of the book

Brevity – Say More with Less

Brevity – Say More with Less

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Coherence – How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Coherence – How to Achieve Coherence in Writing


Flow – How to Create Flow in Writing

Inclusivity – Inclusive Language

Inclusivity – Inclusive Language


The Elements of Style – The DNA of Powerful Writing


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