What is a Summary? - Definition & Concept

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  • 0:01 What Is a Summary?
  • 0:55 Writing Summaries
  • 1:44 Summary Example
  • 3:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
In this lesson you'll learn what summaries are and how they differ from other forms of condensed writing. You'll also be shown an example of a summary, and what should and should not be included in a summary paragraph.

What is a Summary?

A summary is a condensed version of an original text, usually a full article or book. Summaries are usually around a paragraph long, and may even be a few paragraphs long depending on the length of the work being condensed.

Summaries are used in variety of situations. For example, you might want to summarize only the main points of a meeting with a co-worker because you're running late for another meeting. Or, let's say you want to introduce a complex design idea. You could begin by summarizing what your design would accomplish, to give key people an overall sense of your plan without overwhelming them. Students might summarize an article for a class, or when preparing and writing research papers, annotated bibliographies and essays. Abstracts and legal brief are also types of summaries.

Writing Summaries

Another thing that might be difficult, especially when summarizing controversial material, is to leave your opinion out. Why? Because summaries contain only the source's ideas, and nothing more. Stating your opinion would not be summarizing that source. When using a summary in an essay or research paper, include an in-text citation to give credit to the original source.

If you should use opinions, what should you use? You should use your own words when writing summaries as much as possible. You can't avoid using names of people and places of course, but it's important to phrase the main points of the source in your own way. You might also want to include an occasional brief quote. Summaries aren't outlines. They're complete paragraphs with fully formed sentences.

Summary Example

Let's say you've just read Suzanne Collins' novel The Hunger Games and want to tell someone what it's about. You would most likely begin with Katniss (the main character) and share the most important points of the novel in some logical sequence. You might even include the setting and the overall goal of the games.

If you did this in writing, you would have created a summary of the novel. It might look something like this:

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