The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Writers Workshop: Writer Resources

Writing Tips: Summaries


A summary is a restatement of someone else's words in your own words. There are many different kinds of summaries, and they vary according to the degree to which you interpret or analyze the source. Some are pages long, while others are just one or two sentences. However, for all types of summary, the writer is responsible for generally stating, in his or her own words, the main information or argument of another writer.

Purposes of the Summary

Before you write the summary, consider why your audience (professor, boss, client) wants to read it. Why shouldn't the reader just read the original? Summaries benefit the reader because they offer a concise, general version of the original information. For a busy reader, summaries provide quick overviews of material. Summaries also show readers that you have understood the general point of a text, and in this way, teachers can test your knowledge. The process of summarizing someone else's material enables you to better understand that material. Finally, summaries allow you to introduce knowledge within a research context: you can summarize someone's argument in order to analyze or critique it.

What and When to Summarize

Many student writers tend to quote when they should summarize material. Quote only when the author expresses a point in a particularly telling or interesting language. Otherwise, simply summarize. Use a summary to restate an entire argument. Use a summary to present information. Summary is more economical than quotation because a summary allows the writer more control over the argument.

How to Summarize

Summary Conventions

Example Summary

The following paragraph is summarized below. Note how the brief summary uses the principles outlined above.