Effective Summaries of a Paragraph or Passage

Instructor: Tara Turzi
Knowing how to summarize a paragraph or passage is a useful skill in many writing situations. This lesson will walk you through the steps to writing an effective summary using your own words.

Writing an Effective Summary

Alex is required to write a summary of a 1-paragraph article for his composition course. He is concerned that he will not be able to write the summary without using the same words from the original source. He's also worried that his summary will be too opinionated. What can Alex do to make sure his summary is effective?

A summary is a shortened version of the original source material, and it only reports the essential points of the original. It should be written in the writer's own words, avoiding direct quotes. It should also refer to the original source so readers know it is a summary, and not the writer's original ideas. An effective summary is objective; it does not reveal the writer's opinions of the original source.

Identify the Key Points

The first step to writing an effective summary of a paragraph or passage is to carefully read the original source you want to summarize. Read the source material several times, and identify the author's key points. It's important to fully understand the author's main idea so you can put it into your own words. It also helps to make a brief outline of 2-3 points from the original paragraph or passage you want to cover in your summary.

Draft the Summary

Once you have a complete understanding of the original source, and a brief outline, it's time to begin writing your own summary. A summary should be shorter than the original. For example, if Alex's original source is a 1-paragraph article, his summary should only be a few sentences. The goal of summary is to shorten the original source, and to present it in your own words. Imagine you watched Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, a movie with a running time of 3 hours and 48 minutes. If your friend asked you what happened in the movie, it wouldn't take you nearly four hours to share the plot, would it? You would probably summarize the events into a much shorter version that might only take a few minutes to share. This same idea applies to writing a summary.

Use Your Own Words

Remember how Alex felt he wasn't able to write the summary without using the same words from the source? This is a common problem with writing summaries. A good way to avoid this problem is to write the summary without referring to the source. Put the original source away and try to write your summary without looking at it. This will help you avoid using the same words, or just rearranging the original text. Once you have written the summary, you can go back to the original and check to be sure you've retained the author's meaning, but used only your own words. If you find some areas where you did use the original text, be sure to rewrite them in your own words. Don't just rearrange the text, or use synonyms; rewrite the sentence so it is written in your own way.

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