How to Write a Summary

A summary is a brief statement or account of the main points of a specific text, conveying the essence without making it too short or too lengthy. If you don’t have experience writing a summary, it can be difficult finding the right balance of detail and brevity, as well as giving even attention to all of the author’s points.

Here are seven key attributes to keep in mind when you’re learning how to write a summary.

1. Focus on the Essence of the Text

Your goal is to focus only on the central idea of the text. The best place to find this is usually in the author’s thesis statement and early in the article.

2. Organize Your Thoughts

Organize your notes on the text by dividing it into sections. Make an outline of your summary. Include the main topic in the outline and include the key supporting points for the topic that are in each section of the text. Remember to focus only on the main point and most important details, and put them in logical order.

3. Get to the Point

In your first sentence, get right into the information by writing the author’s name, the name of the text you’re summarizing, and the thesis statement. Write like a reporter by addressing who, what, when, where, how, and why. You must present your points in the order that the author presents them. Make sure that you’re concise, but avoid short, choppy sentences. Don’t forget that your summary will not be as long as the article you are summarizing. Keep to a quarter or a third of the length of the original text you’re summarizing.

4. Make It Flow

Always remember to use good transitional words or phrases, such as “on the other hand” or “moreover” to link your summary sentences together. This combination of sentences will produce a smooth logical flow of ideas.

5. Use Your Own Words

Using your own words, write in the third person and present tense. You should paraphrase the author’s statements as much as possible. This will help you avoid plagiarism. However, when you do this, be careful not to change the meaning of the author’s words.

6. Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Periodically, remind your readers that this is a summary and that it’s still the material of the author by using phrases such as “the article claims” or “the author suggests”, and so forth. If you must quote directly from the author, remember to put the author’s statements in quotation marks and always cite the page number. Do not include your own opinions.

7. Edit for Accuracy

Finally, make sure you proof read your summary. Check for spelling, punctuation, grammatical, and formatting errors. Just as your summary condenses the finer points of an original text, formatting software can shorten the length of your editing process, allowing you to focus more of your time on the quality of your content. It ensures that you don’t lose points for not following the proper guidelines, whether MLA, APA or another, and it makes it easier for your reader to validate your sources by using the proper citation style.

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto or write to:
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Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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