Steps to Writing Summaries

Effective summary writing is a way of showing you have a good understanding of a particular text and that you are able to communicate that knowledge to an audience. Initially, it can be reasonably difficult to write a summary because of the temptation to provide an excessive amount of information or not enough. However, if you follow the eight easy steps described below you should soon be able to write effective summaries for any subject or course.

  1. Divide the work to conquer it! Begin by skimming the text you are summing up and then split it into different sections. Try and develop some headings and, if necessary, some sub-headings that you can focus on. Additionally, look for any terms that are in bold typeface and make certain you understand them before you start your summary.
  2. Start reading any passages you have marked out. With the initial preparation out of the way, you can start reading any extracts you have selected. It is not necessary to look up any troublesome terms at this stage. Just try and establish the style, tone and key ideas from the author’s work.
  3. Read the selected texts again, this time actively. This is the key to understanding how to write a summary. Pick out any sentences and important facts relevant to the topic. Mark passages that you need to refer to when writing. Additionally, you should mark any passages that you want to avoid because they contain overly specific detail, even if the information is interesting. You should also highlight areas you do not understand so that you can later get clarification on them.
  4. Write your summary sentence by sentence. By now, you should be developing a good feel for the text you are summing up. In the previous steps (Nos 1 to 3), you separated the text into different sections and picked out the main points and ideas. Now you are in a position to jot down the main point from these sections into a single well-considered sentence. Ensure these sentences contain main points rather than insignificant detail.
  5. Develop your thesis sentence (or statement). This is a key component of writing a summary. You should now look back over the sentences you jotted down in the previous step and develop a thesis that communicates clearly what your entire paper will be about. If you cannot do this, you may need to check that your earlier sentences really did cover the most important points.
  6. Now you are ready to start writing. By now, your initial draft should be more or less done. The thesis statement you wrote can be used in the first sentence of your summing up, with the remaining sentences devoted to the essay’s body. Ensure all points and sentences are in the correct order. Use a few transitional words or phrases (e.g. also, furthermore, however, then, etc.) to improve overall flow and structure. And here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are actually writing (or typing):
  • Don’t forget to include the name of the author and the work;
  • Use the present tense in your writing
  • Write concisely. Your summary should not be the same length as the original work;
  • If you feel it necessary to use the author’s words, make sure these are properly cited;
  • Your summary should not include your own ideas, interpretation or opinion. The true purpose of a summary is not to critique the work but to represent what the author said or intended to say as accurately as possible.
  1. Double-check the accuracy of your work. This is one of our top tips on how to write a good summary. Read back over the summary you have written to make absolutely sure you have represented the main points and ideas accurately. Check that any direct quotes from the text are properly cited. Make sure also that you have not added your own person comments on the text.
  2. Do not forget about revision. When you are relatively sure the summary you have written is as accurate as can be, it is important to undertake a revision of it, just as you would with any written piece. Look at the grammar, spelling, punctuation and style. If time permits, ask another person to read your work. Solely from the summary you have written, that person must be able to understand what the original text is about. If they cannot, you might have concentrated too intently on a particular area and not enough on the main idea the author was trying to get across.

Here is a little piece of additional information. By its very definition, an essay summary is a brief but comprehensive written piece. Therefore, a text such as a book summary is comprised of those parts of the work that are most important. It describes in condensed form the beginning of the book, its growing action, high point, declining action and its end. Summaries that are well-written also contain critical detail about the setting and the key characters in the developing plot.

In essence, all good summary essays provide a general overview of the work, including all essential elements, in the writer’s own words. Think about visiting a library or bookstore. You may not be able to remember a book’s name but you may be able to recollect sufficient information to enable an assistant to locate it for you.

Do you now know how to write a summary paper? What is a chapter summary? This type of summary is a short version of a book’s main action. It should describe the main points and the key characters. It will also describe the setting of the action and/or may recap on events from previous chapters.

A chapter summary is useful for helping you recollect key characters or events for inclusion in any book report or summary essay you may be writing.