What is a Summary?

Updated Aug 18, 2021

What is a summary?

By Matthew

Summarizing texts can be difficult, especially if you’re not very familiar with the source material. There is much that goes into creating a great summary, and we’re here to help you understand the essential components. The first step consists of understanding texts.

How to Understand Texts

Thinking about summaries can help you understand the texts you read in a number of ways. First, it allows you to see what’s important. When you’re reading a text, it can be easy to get distracted by all the words or details that the author includes. A summary forces you to focus on what really matters—the major ideas that are important and relevant to understanding what the author is trying to say.

Second, it helps you see how authors build their arguments. A good summary not only tells which points are important, but also shows how they all fit together to make an argument. The good news is that by breaking down an argument into its main points, a summary can help us better understand how each point fits in with the others and why they matter. So when we read other texts that make an argument, we can see how each point works with the others and why it matters.

Finally, writing summaries forces us to think critically about texts in new ways and explore how we might use them in conversation with others. A great summary doesn’t just tell us what happened; it tells us why something happened and how it helps us understand something else—be it another piece of text or one of life’s phenomena. And this is what’s so great about writing summaries: By distilling texts down into their key points, we can figure out which parts of them are most important for us and our conversations with others!

The Six Steps to Writing a Summary

Here’s what you need to know in order to write great summaries:

1. Pay attention.

When you’re reading, the first step is to pay attention to what you read. As you read, be aware of the key points and key ideas that the author is making. The first step in writing a summary is knowing what that text says! You need to keep track of these ideas as you read. You can do this by taking notes as you go. Keeping track of all the important concepts and ideas that are included in a text can help you write a summary later on.

2. Plan ahead.

Don’t wait until your teacher asks you for a summary before thinking about how you’d describe one. The best summaries are written ahead of time, letting the writer think about which points matter and why they matter before getting started on their paper or presentation. (This also helps us avoid cramming at the last minute!) You need time. A good summary takes time! A great summary takes even more time! It may take you days or even weeks—or more—to really understand and grasp what the author is saying in any given text. But writing a summary can give us a chance to really think about how we understand something and how we might explain it to others—so take as much time as needed! (And remember: if it seems like something important was left out, it probably was!) Checking in with others can help us along our way. Once we have an idea of what we want our summary to look like, we can try out different ways of explaining it or presenting it with friends or classmates who are working on similar texts or texts with similar topics. Sharing our work with others gives us feedback about how well we explain things and how well we organize them so that they make sense for others (and so that they make sense for ourselves too!). Critiquing others’ work also helps us learn from their examples, seeing which aspects of their summaries work well and why they do so well while also noticing where their summaries could be improved.

3. Practice writing summaries often—and then revise them over and over again.

Sometimes it feels like there’s no such thing as a good summary because they all end up looking boring or dull no matter how hard we try (or how carefully we write). But don’t worry: with practice, all that will change—and soon enough, your summaries will be some of your favorite papers to write. When taking notes and planning ahead doesn’t work, try these tips: Use transition words . These words help your reader follow along by helping them see why each idea follows from the last one. They include words like “because,” “therefore,” “on the other hand,” “yet,” “although,” “nevertheless,” etc.—in other words many of the same phrases used by authors themselves when creating arguments in their texts.

4. Be specific.

This means being descriptive without being redundant; rather than saying someone was happy when they were really ecstatic or saddened when they were actually depressed , focus on describing just what made them happy or sad without repeating yourself over-and-over again. The phrase could include descriptive verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositional phrases, etc.—all things that show rather than tell without having writers repeat themselves over-and-over again when trying to get across just how someone felt.

5. Use quotes sparingly.

Quotes can be powerful tools for summarizing if used correctly but should never be used instead of putting ideas into your own words. If there are many quotes in your paper/presentation/etc., then consider cutting those down so there aren't so many repeating lines standing out from everything else. And remember: while quotes can be useful tools for developing arguments alongside original lines of thinking, turning an entire paper into an argument built only around quotations makes little sense considering both sides will likely look at those quotations very differently/ So keep those quotes brief if possible—that way anything quoted won't stand out as much from everything else.

6. Be cautious about using citations liberally.

Citing sources properly is very important because doing otherwise means plagiarism —but citing too often makes citations feel forced which kills flow when reading a piece. Instead cite only once every two paragraphs at most unless something said necessitates multiple citations; otherwise too many citations disrupts flow because readers have trouble following along after reading too many citations.