How to Write a Summary: A Complete Guide to Summarizing a Text

Summary writing is crucial for explaining your main idea in short and meaningful sentences. Let's learn how to write a summary more easily.

By:   Katie Piper, Published on: 2024-01-13, Last Updated: 05-04-24

Reviewed by: Allison Hott

Table of Contents

Summary writing is an essential skill that helps you understand and share the main ideas of a text quickly and effectively. According to a study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, effective summary writing can improve reading comprehension by up to 25%. Furthermore, a study says, 73% of Employers Want Candidates With This Skill Data shows that strong writing skills make candidates more favorable.

Whether you're dealing with a large book, an article, or even a movie, knowing how to summarize allows you to capture the core message in a clear and concise way.

When to Make a Summary?

There are numerous circumstances where summarizing an article or other source may be necessary:

  • as a stand-alone assignment to demonstrate your understanding of the subject
  • to make notes so you can recall what you have read 
  • In a literature review, to provide an overview of the work of other researchers

There are several methods you will use to integrate sources when writing an academic text such as an essay, research paper, or dissertation. A few sentences or paragraphs could be reworded or rephrased, or you could use a brief quote to support your claim.

However, it is frequently appropriate to summarize an entire article or chapter if it is particularly relevant to your own research or to provide an overview of a source before analyzing or criticizing it.

In any case, the goal of summarizing is to provide your reader with a thorough understanding of the original source in your own reworded version. 

Follow the ten steps outlined below to write a good summary.

How to Start a Summary in 10 Simple Steps

Writing a summary might seem challenging, but it's quite straightforward when you follow these steps. Let's take a look at each step:

1. Read the Text Carefully

Read the text several times to make sure you understand the author's message completely. The first time you read, focus on getting a general sense of the story or article.

For example, if the text is about a historical event, try to understand the main event, the key figures involved, and the overall outcome. Such as:

Reading Stage


Example Text: Historical Event

What to Note

First Reading

General Understanding

A text about the first moon landing in 1969.

Understand the main event (moon landing), key figures (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin), and outcome (successfully landing and returning).

Second Reading

Detailed Noting

Same text on the first moon landing.

Note major dates (July 20, 1969), names (Neil Armstrong, NASA), significant quotes ("One small step for man..."), and specific details (the spacecraft used, challenges faced).

In this table:

  • The First Reading column is about getting a broad understanding without getting stuck in details.
  • The Second Reading column is where you know the deeper meaning, noting specific, important details that will be crucial for your summary.

2. Identify the Main Idea

After you've read the text carefully, the next step is to pinpoint the main idea. This means figuring out the central point or the primary message that the author wants to convey.

For example, if your text is a report about environmental conservation, the main idea might be the importance of preserving natural habitats to protect biodiversity. Here's how you can break it down:

Identification Stage


Example Text: Environmental Conservation Report

What to Identify

Initial Assessment

Broad Theme

A report on the impact of deforestation on wildlife.

Look for the general theme, like the urgent need for conservation efforts.

Deeper Analysis

Specific Thesis or Argument

The same report on deforestation.

Identify the specific argument or thesis, such as how deforestation leads to loss of biodiversity and why this is a critical issue.

In this table:

  • The Initial Assessment column is about understanding the broad theme of the text. You're not diving into details yet, just getting a sense of what the overall topic is.
  • The Deeper Analysis column involves looking more closely to understand the specific argument or thesis the author is making. This is where you pinpoint the main message or idea that the author wants the reader to understand.

Identifying the main idea is crucial because it guides the focus of your summary. You'll know what details are important to include and what can be left out.

3. Note Key Points

Once you've identified the main idea of the text, the next step is to note the key points that support this idea. These are the essential facts, arguments, or events that are crucial to understanding the text's main message.

For example, if you're summarizing a biography about a famous scientist, the key points might include their major discoveries, the challenges they faced, and their significant contributions to their field.

Here's a table to help break down this step:

Noting Stage


Example Text: Biography of a Famous Scientist

What to Note

Highlighting Facts

Major Discoveries and Events

A biography of Marie Curie, the pioneering scientist.

Note her key discoveries like radium and polonium, and major events like winning the Nobel Prize.

Understanding Impact

Significance and Contributions

The same biography of Marie Curie.

Identify her contributions to science, such as advancing the field of radioactivity, and the impact of her work on future research.

In this table:

  • The Highlighting Facts column is about pinpointing the major events or discoveries in the text. These are the standout points that are central to the subject's story.
  • The Understanding Impact column involves recognizing the significance of these events or discoveries. What difference did they make? How did they contribute to the subject's field or to the world in general?

Noting these key points helps you build a summary that is both informative and focused, ensuring that you cover the most crucial aspects of the text.

4. Understand the Context

After noting the key points, it's important to understand the context in which the text was written. Context includes the background information, setting, and circumstances that surround the main idea and key points.

For example, if your text is an article about internet privacy, understanding the context might involve knowing the current laws, technological advancements, and public opinion on privacy issues.

Here's how to break down this step:

Contextualization Stage


Example Text: Article on Internet Privacy

What to Understand

Background Information

Setting and Circumstances

An article discussing the evolution of internet privacy laws.

Understand the historical background of internet privacy, like key events that shaped current laws and public opinion.

Current Relevance

Present-Day Implications

The same article on internet privacy.

Grasp the present-day implications, such as how recent technological advances or data breaches are influencing the debate on privacy.

In this table:

  • The Background Information column is about grasping the historical or situational backdrop of the text. 
  • The Current Relevance column involves understanding how the context applies to the present day.

5. Prepare Your Summary Draft

Once you've read the text carefully, identified the main idea, noted key points, and understood the context, it's time to prepare your summary draft. Preparing your summary draft is a crucial step in capturing the essence of the text in a clear, concise, and informative way.

For example, here's a table to guide you through this step:

Drafting Stage


Example Text: Scientific Research Paper

What to Include in the Draft

Structuring the Summary

Organizing Information

A research paper on the effects of climate change on coral reefs.

Start with the study's purpose (investigating climate change impacts), then the main findings (effects on coral reefs), and conclude with the significance (implications for marine ecosystems).

Condensing Information

Keeping it Concise

The same research paper on coral reefs.

Ensure that the draft includes only the most critical information, omitting less important details and focusing on the essence of the research.

In this table:

  • The Structuring the Summary column is about organizing the information you've gathered into a clear and logical order.
  • The Condensing Information column involves distilling the text to its most essential elements.

6. Use Your Own Words and Start Writing Summary

After preparing your summary draft, the next step is to use your own words to write the summary. This means rephrasing the original text and not copying it verbatim. It's crucial to maintain the original meaning while expressing it in a new way.

For example, if you're summarizing a novel about an adventure in space, instead of using the author's words, describe the plot, characters, and themes in your own language.

Here's a table to guide you through this process:

Rewriting Stage


Example Text: Novel About a Space Adventure

How to Use Your Own Words

Paraphrasing Content

Changing the Original Wording

A novel depicting an astronaut's journey to Mars.

Instead of saying, "The astronaut bravely maneuvered the spacecraft," you might say, "The astronaut skillfully navigated the spaceship through the challenges."

Expressing Original Ideas

Maintaining the Essence

The same novel on the astronaut's journey.

Convey the main themes, like courage and discovery, in a way that reflects your understanding and perspective.

In this table:

  • The Paraphrasing Content column is about transforming the original text into your own words. It's not just about changing a few words here and there, but about genuinely rephrasing the content while keeping the original meaning.
  • The Expressing Original Ideas column involves interpreting the main ideas or themes of the text in a unique way.

Using your own words to write the summary is essential for avoiding plagiarism and demonstrating your understanding of the text.

7. Keep Summary Writing Brief and Concise

The essence of a good summary is its short message and clarity. Once you've used your own words to write the summary, the next step is to ensure it is brief and concise. This means distilling the text to its most essential points and expressing them clearly.

For more clarity, here's a table to help refine your summary:

Condensing Stage


Example Text: Documentary on Ocean Conservation

How to Keep It Brief and Concise

Eliminating Redundancy

Removing Repetitions

A documentary discussing the threats to marine life.

Avoid repeating the same points. For instance, if the documentary mentions plastic pollution multiple times, summarize this point just once.

Focusing on Essentials

Highlighting Key Points

The same documentary on ocean conservation.

Concentrate on the main threats discussed, key statistics, and the documentary’s primary call to action, omitting secondary anecdotes or examples.

In this table:

  • The Eliminating Redundancy column is about identifying and removing repetitive information.
  • The Focusing on Essentials column involves discerning what information is crucial to understand the documentary's message.

8. Check for Accuracy and Author Quotation

The final touches to your summary involve checking for accuracy and, if necessary, including quotations from the author.

Accuracy is crucial to ensure that your summary correctly represents the original text's ideas.

Quotations can be used to emphasize specific points or to convey the author's tone or style, especially when these are significant.

Here's how you can approach this step:

Finalization Stage


Example Text: Speech by a Famous Leader

Action to Take

Verifying Facts

Ensuring Correct Representation

A speech about human rights by a renowned activist.

Double-check that your summary correctly captures the main arguments and facts presented in the speech.

Incorporating Quotes

Using Author's Words

The same speech on human rights.

Include a powerful quote from the speech that encapsulates its key message, like, "Freedom is the right of every human being."

In this table:

  • The Verifying Facts column is about making sure your summary accurately reflects the content of the original text. This is crucial to avoid misinterpretation or misrepresentation.
  • The Incorporating Quotes column involves selecting and including quotations that are particularly impactful or representative of the author's point of view or style.

9. Conclude the Summary

The final step in summary writing is to craft a conclusion. This is where you tie together all the main points you've discussed in a coherent and concise wrap-up. In the conclusion, you should restate the essence of the text, emphasizing its key themes or messages.

For example, conclude your summary effectively just like:

Conclusion Stage


Example Text: Scientific Article on Renewable Energy

How to Conclude

Restating Key Points

Summarizing Main Ideas

An article discussing advances in solar energy technology.

Briefly reiterate the article’s main points, like significant advancements in solar panel efficiency and their potential impact on energy consumption.

Highlighting Significance

Emphasizing Importance

The same article on solar energy.

Emphasize why these findings are important, such as their role in reducing reliance on fossil fuels and combating climate change.

In this table:

  • The Restating Key Points column is about succinctly summarizing the primary elements of the text. It's a recap of the most important information you've already covered in the summary.
  • The Highlighting Significance column involves underscoring the importance or impact of the text’s main ideas. This is where you underscore why the reader should care about the information in the summary.

10. Revise and Edit Your Summary

The final step in creating your summary is to revise and edit it. This process involves reviewing your summary for clarity, coherence, and grammatical accuracy. It's important to ensure that your summary flows logically, is easy to read, and is free of errors.

For example, if you have summarized a report on climate change, you should go through your summary to check for any unclear phrases.

Here's a guide for the revision and editing process:

Revision Stage


Example Text: Report on Climate Change

What to Do

Checking Coherence

Ensuring Logical Flow

A report discussing the effects of climate change on global weather patterns.

Ensure that your summary follows a logical order and that the points smoothly transition from one to the next.

Proofreading for Errors

Correcting Grammar and Spelling

The same report on climate change.

Go through the summary to check for and correct any grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, or typos.

In this table:

  • The Checking Coherence column is about making sure that your summary makes sense as a whole.
  • The Proofreading for Errors column involves a thorough check for language errors. This is crucial for making your summary not only accurate in content but also polished and professional in presentation.

Relevant Topics:

Final Words

After getting information from this easy guide, you can learn how to write clear and short summaries of different texts. You will be good at summarizing, and it helps you understand and remember things better.

Whether you're learning new topics or need to explain big ideas, it works quickly for you. Summarizing helps make complicated information easy to understand.

So let’s improve this important skill by carefully reading, writing, and checking your work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is summary writing important?

Summary writing helps grasp and share key ideas quickly, whether it's a book, article, or movie, enhancing understanding and communication.

When should I summarize a text?

Summarize when studying for tests, sharing key points in meetings, explaining interesting topics to friends, or condensing information for reports.

How do I identify the main idea in a text?

Pinpoint the central theme or primary message the author wants to convey after carefully reading the text multiple times.

Why key points in a summary?

Noting crucial facts, arguments, or events supports the main idea, ensuring your summary is informative and focused.

Why understand the context of summary writing?

Understanding the background, setting, and circumstances surrounding the main idea adds depth and clarity to your summary.

How do I keep my summary brief and concise?

Eliminate redundancy by avoiding repeated points and focus on essential information, ensuring your summary is clear and to the point.