Five Steps To Writing A Summary Essay


There are two basic types of summaries: a reader summary, that you compose to develop a better understanding of what you have read, or a summary essay, which is written for others and is an overview of an original text. The point of writing a summary essay is to convey an understanding of the essence of a source text to readers, without them having to read it in its entirety.

Steps for Writing a Summary Essay

  1. Thoroughly read and study the original text. When you read it, get a feeling for the author’s style, tone and mood, and try to identify the main ideas expressed.
  2. Divide the text into several sections, and sketch a rough outline. Breaking the text into several parts will make the material easier to grasp. Then read each part once more, but this time highlight some of the key points. Mark areas you want to refer to in your summary, as well as those that shouldn’t be included in your essay.
  3. When you have a clear understanding of the information in each part of the source, write down the main idea in each section in the form of a short overview.
  4. Write an introduction. It should briefly present the main ideas in the original text. The introduction should include the name of the author, the title of their work, and some background information about the author, if needed.
  5. In the main body paragraphs, state the ideas you’ve chosen while reading the text. Expand on them by including one or more examples from the original text. Include important information only and avoid describing minor, insignificant points.
  6. After you have summarized the main ideas in the original text, your essay is finished. A conclusion paragraph should be added if your teacher specifically tells you to include one.

Summary Essay Topics

You can write a summary essay on a scientific work, an interesting article, a novel, or a research paper. This type of essay can be on any subject. For example, you might want to write a summary essay on:

  • Catcher in the Rye (book)
  • Citizen Kane (film)
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (book)
  • Captain Fantastic (film)
  • Lord of the Rings (book)
  • Song of Two Humans (film)
  • Of Mice and Men (book)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (film)
  • Moby Dick (book)
  • Ben Hurr (film)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • A movie by Ingmar Bergman
  • A novel by Jack London
  • The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
  • An article in The New York Times
  • A blog post of a famous journalist

Key Points to Consider

  1. One of the most important aspects about a summary essay is its connection to the source. Keep in mind that your interpretation of the source can mislead your readers or even distort the meaning of the original text.
  2. Your summary essay should serve as a substitute for the original source; by reading your summary essay, a reader should be able to develop an understanding of the original work.
  3. This type of essay is about summarizing the original text, not criticizing it.

Do and Don’t

Do
  • Do cite the author’s words if you need to use them. Otherwise, it may look like plagiarism.
  • Do write in present tense, even if the author of the original text has passed away a long time ago.
  • Do understand the original source completely. If you have doubts about the meaning of certain terms, clarify them before you start to write.
  • Do make sure you’ve said exactly what the author did when citing their words.
  • Do revise your paper when it’s ready. You may find a nice place to insert a new quotation, correct some mistakes, and make other improvements. You can also give your essay to a friend or a colleague to read to see if they can grasp the main idea of the source after reading your summary essay.
Don’t
  • Don’t include your own examples or interpretations in your paper. You literally need to repeat the information given in the original text, but in a shorter frame and in your own words.
  • Don’t insert any of your evaluations or judgments about the text. Your task is to summarize, not give a personal opinion.
  • Don’t try to grasp all of the ideas contained in the original text in your essay. Focus only on the most important points.
  • Don’t report on unnecessary details.
  • Don’t forget to include transitions to signal when you move to a new idea within the same paragraph.

Common Mistakes

– Including too much or too little information in your essay.

– Forgetting to cite quotations, so that the words of the original texts’ author looks like your own.

– Concentrating on insignificant details, examples, and anecdotes.

– Trying to interpret or explain what the author wanted to say in his or her work. You must give a concise overview of the source, not present your own interpretation.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic summary essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our summary essay samples to link theory with practice.

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Samples for Writing a Summary Essay

"1984" by George Orwell

“1984” is a novel about totalitarianism and the fate of a single man who tried to escape from an overwhelming political regime....

Nemesis by Philip Roth

By Miguel Fernandes Ceia The blurb on the dust cover of Philip Roth’s Nemesis is pretty accurate, ‘a terrifying epidemic is raging’, ‘focusing on [Bucky] Cantor’s dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground—and the realities he faces�...

"Three Comrades" by E. M. Remarque

Three Comrades, written by German writer Erich Maria Remarque, is one of the ...

Research articles usually use standard formats to communicate in a clear manner any kind of information regarding an experiment. A good research article would usually contain a title, an abstract, an introduction, the methodology, the results, a discussion and some references.

When you have to write a summary for research paper, you will need to know how to proceed from start to finish. Every detail is important if you want to come up with a good article summary in a due course.

1. Determine the Focus of Your Summary

You will first need to determine why you’re writing that certain summary. If you want to make a review that you can, later on, read again and remind yourself of the content of the article, you may want to make your summary a slighter longer one. However, if the summary was written with the purpose of being included in a paper that you are currently writing, you may want to stick to how that certain article relates to your paper.

2. Scan the Article

Before you start reading the entire article, you need to scan it for content first. Briefly, go over the article and look at each of its sections to find:

  • The reason for doing the research and the question stated (usually found in the introduction)
  • The hypothesis (or hypotheses) that were tested in the article (also in the introduction)
  • How they tested the hypothesis (found in the methodology)
  • What the findings were (look for them in the results)
  • How those findings were interpreted (found in the discussion)

When scanning with the purpose of writing summary papers, each key sentence should be underlined or written in the margin of the article. The abstract may be able to help identify some of the points; still, you cannot rely solely on it since the information is very condensed and you can miss certain key aspects.

3. Read the Article

Once you finished scanning your article, you need to read it thoroughly next. Take each section and read it several times, considering your highlighted notes. As you read with the purpose of writing a summary for research paper, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does the design address the issues of the research?
  • What is the contribution of this study in answering the main question?
  • Are the results convincing or surprising?
  • What aspects did they still leave unanswered?

When you feel like you can explain this study to someone else who has yet to read the article, then you are ready to start writing about it. Be careful to take notes in your own words so that you can avoid plagiarism in your summary papers. If you find yourself sticking too closely to the original language and the changes to the wording are minor, then you didn’t really understand the study.

4. Write the Summary

Just like the abstract, the purpose of a summary for research paper will be to give the audience a brief overview of what that study says. You will need to find out what information is relevant and explain it briefly but thoroughly.

All first drafts of your summary papers should follow the order of the original article. Having said that, the structure would look something like this:

  • State the question of the research and explain why it’s important.
  • State the hypotheses that were tested.
  • Describe the methods in a few paragraphs (participants, design, procedure, materials, independent and dependent variables, how they analyzed the data)
  • Talk about the results and explain why they were significant.
  • State what the key implications were and don’t overstate the importance of their findings.
  • The results and their interpretation should be directly related to the hypothesis.

This first draft of writing the summary for research paper should be focused on content rather than length. The chances are that it will need further condensing, but that will be left for the next step.

5. Edit Your Summary

Most of the time, a research summary will end up being too long, and will need further condensing. The text will need to be edited for accuracy, which means you will need to add further information where it’s necessary. Try to avoid any generalities, and keep your summary papers concise, focused.

At the same time, the paper will need to be edited for style (your readers need to be able to understand you). To make it look smart, you need to:

  • Eliminate wordiness (such as adverbs or other words that aren’t really necessary)
  • Use concrete and specific language
  • Use language that is scientifically accurate
  • Paraphrase instead of quoting other personalities

If you properly determine your focus, and then scan and read your research articles, you can definitely manage to write and edit your summary paper in a way that will come nothing short of perfection.

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