Summarizing and Paraphrasing

Learning Objectives

  • Summarize a passage of reading
  • Paraphrase a passage of reading

Have you ever heard, “the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else”?

Writing a summary of a source is a very similar process to teaching someone the content—but in this case, the student you’re teaching is yourself.

Summarizing, or condensing someone else’s ideas and putting it into your own shortened form, allows you to be sure that you’ve accurately captured the main idea of the text you’re reading. When reading, summarizing is helpful for checking your understanding of a longer text and remembering the author’s main ideas. When writing, summarizing is critical when reviewing, writing an abstract, preparing notes for a study guide, creating an annotated bibliography, answering essay questions, recording results of an experiment, describing the plot of a fictional work or film, or writing a research paper.

How to Write Summary Statements

Use these processes to help you write summary statements:

  • Underline important information and write keywords in the margin.
  • Record ideas using a two-column note-taking system. Record questions you have about the text concepts in the left column and answers you find in the reading in the right column.
  • Identify how concepts relate to what you already know.
  • Add examples and details

For retaining key ideas as you read, write a summary statement at the end of each paragraph or section. For capturing the major ideas of the entire work, write a summary paragraph (or more) that describes the entire text.

Tips for Summary

For longer, overall summary projects that capture an entire reading, consider these guidelines for writing a summary:

  • A summary should contain the main thesis or standpoint of the text, restated in your own words. (To do this, first find the thesis statement in the original text.)
  • A summary is written in your own words. It contains few or no quotes.
  • A summary is always shorter than the original text, often about 1/3 as long as the original. It is the ultimate fat-free writing. An article or paper may be summarized in a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs. A book may be summarized in an article or a short paper. A very large book may be summarized in a smaller book.
  • A summary should contain all the major points of the original text, and should ignore most of the fine details, examples, illustrations or explanations.
  • The backbone of any summary is formed by crucial details (key names, dates, events, words and numbers). A summary must never rely on vague generalities.
  • If you quote anything from the original text, even an unusual word or a catchy phrase, you need to put whatever you quote in quotation marks (” “).
  • A summary must contain only the ideas of the original text. Do not insert any of your own opinions, interpretations, deductions or comments into a summary.

Watch It

Watch this video to see a walk-through explanation on how to summarize.

You can view the transcript for “Summarizing” here (opens in new window).

Try It


Paraphrasing is the act of putting an author’s ideas into your own words. When reading, paraphrasing is helpful for checking your understanding of what you read as well as remembering what you read. When writing, paraphrasing is an important skill to have when constructing a research paper and incorporating the ideas of others alongside your own.

Try It


paraphrasing: rewriting a passage of text in your own words

summarizing: condensing someone else’s ideas and putting it into your own shortened form


Did you have an idea for improving this content? We’d love your input.

Improve this pageLearn More