How to Summarize:  An Overview

A summary is a brief explanation of a longer text.  Some summaries, such as the ones that accompany annotated bibliographies, are very short.  Others are much longer, though summaries are always much shorter than the text being summarized in the first place. Summaries of different lengths are useful in research writing because you often need to provide your readers with an explanation of the text you are discussing.  This is especially true when you are going to quote or paraphrase from a source.

Of course, the first step in writing a good summary is to do a thorough reading of the text you are going to summarize in the first place.  Beyond that important start, there are a few basic guidelines you should follow when you write summary material:

  • Stay “neutral” in your summarizing.  Summaries provide “just the facts” and are not the place where you offer your opinions about the text you are summarizing.  Save your opinions and evaluation of the evidence you are summarizing for other parts of your writing.
  • Don’t quote from what you are summarizing.  Summaries will be more useful to you and your colleagues if you write them in your own words with your own syntax.
  • Don’t “cut and paste” from database abstracts.  Many of the periodical indexes that are available as part of your library’s computer system include abstracts of articles.  Do not “cut” this abstract material and then “paste” it into your own annotated bibliography.  First, this is plagiarism.  Second, “cutting and pasting” from the abstract defeats one of the purposes of writing summaries and creating an annotated bibliography in the first place: to help you understand your research by explaining it.