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How to Write a Summary

A summary condenses the author’s main purpose and support so that someone else gets the information as it was intended. Plus, you avoid sounding as if you’re making it up.


  • Step 1: Scan the text Scan the text and make notes on paper. Read closely to absorb the author’s tone and central ideas, and then comb back through to clarify points.
  • Step 2: Outline the idea Outline the main idea of each section in your own words. Include only meaningful details and proofs, organizing them from most to least important.
  • Step 3: Develop your thesis Develop a thesis, summarizing the main points of the piece. Be sure to include the author’s name and the title of the work right away.
  • TIP: Avoid using your own opinions or interpretations, no matter how familiar the subject may be.
  • Step 4: Arrange information Arrange the information to clearly support the author's points, adding details to each section. Improve the flow of ideas with transitions that connect sections.
  • Step 5: Cite properly Be sure that sources are cited properly. Paraphrase and don’t use the author’s words if you can help it. Make sure you haven’t wandered off topic.
  • TIP: Ask who, what, why, when, where, and how questions to be sure you have represented the author’s work faithfully.
  • Step 6: Make final corrections Correct your grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Dignify your work and that of your subject’s with the care good scholarship demands.
  • Step 7: Ask for criticism Ask a hyper-critical friend to read your work. Be receptive and not over-sensitive – if they can’t identify your main points, you need to revise.
  • FACT: More than half of students say that their schoolwork requires daily writing.

You Will Need

  • Text
  • Pen and paper
  • Analytical skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Friend
  • Who
  • what
  • why
  • when
  • where
  • and how questions (optional)

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