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4.1: The Process of Writing a Summary

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    1. Read.

    Before you create a summary/response, complete a careful reading of the text. To do this, use a pen, pencil, or highlighter and mark the reading as you go. You may want to put stars next to information that feels important, circle new words that you are unfamiliar with, draw question marks next to passages that are unclear, write questions you have and connections you make in the margins that occur as you read, and use any other symbols that help you find meaning in the text. This will improve your comprehension of the reading and help you with the rest of the process. When you are done reading and marking (writing notes on what you are reading as you read it), answer the following questions:

    • What is the topic of the reading? (This is a word or phrase that answers the question: “What is the text about?”)
    • What is the main idea/thesis of the entire essay/article? (This is the most important thing being said about the topic. It is a general statement that all of the information in the reading supports. It can be a lesson or important point that is made. This statement reflects and unifies the entire meaning of the reading.)
    • What evidence is used to support the thesis or main idea you wrote down? (Identify the big ideas in the reading that explain and support the main idea/thesis.)
    • What is in the reading that made you draw the conclusion as to what the main idea/thesis is?)

    Keep in mind that to effectively write a summary/response, you must completely understand the text you read. Marking helps you do just that. If, after reading and marking the text, you are still unclear as to what it means, revisit it again and again until you are comfortable with the information in it.

    1. Summarize.

    A summary is a reflection of the author’s ideas, not your ideas about what you read. Summaries capture the writer’s main idea and the most important evidence that supports it. Keep in mind that a summary is a condensed version of what you read.

    When writing a summary, do not write your own opinions or judgments about what you read. Capture the most important ideas from the text and shorten and paraphrase them. The summary should be a concise-but-thorough, fair, objective restatement of the original text. It should reflect the author’s viewpoint, not your own. Consider starting your summary paragraph by typing the title of the reading, followed by the author’s name, and the main idea. For example, an opening line of a summary/response might look like this:

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\):

    In “Son of Saddam,” Don Yaeger states* that Uday Saddam used his position of authority to abuse and scare athletes instead of motivating them. (*Pick an appropriate present tense verb: claims, explains, defends, insists, asserts, compares, warns, observes, condemns, suggests, refutes, shows, etc.)


    After the first mention of the author’s full name, refer to him or her only by the last name: Smith argues . . . instead of John argues . . .

    Follow this by explaining the textual support for your statement. Write it in your own words. In fact, as you write your summary, it is best to put away the reading after having read, marked, and fully understood it. Why? Because if you have the reading right in front of you as you write, you may be more likely to “borrow” exact language from the reading by copying it down verbatim (word-for-word) from the direct source. When you put away the reading and complete writing a summary from your memory, you verify that you understood what you read and are more likely to use your own words instead of the exact ones of the author. You may want to think of it this way: What would you say if a friend asked you what that movie was about that you saw last weekend? Chances are you could rattle off a good summary of the movie without much effort. You have forgotten the details, but you remember the highlights. The same is true here: What was that essay about that you read yesterday?

    Once your summary feels complete, take out the text you read and your summary and compare the two for accuracy. After having written a summary, the next step is to check it for a main idea/ thesis, appropriate and adequate evidence that backs the main idea/thesis, a summary statement (restatement of the main idea/thesis), and transitions throughout that move the reader from one idea to the next. Some transitions typically used for summaries include the following: in short, in summary, furthermore, and in addition. One last tip is to avoid writing statements such as the following in a summary: This essay is about….Statements like this feel vague and general. They are considered novice techniques. Use language that is more concrete for your summary.

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