When you summarize material from a source, you both condense and restate the main points concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any additional, important main ideas from the section you want to summarize. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

Remember that summarizing involves condensing main ideas of a source or section of a source into a much shorter overview. A summary outlines a source’s most important points and general position. When summarizing a source, it is still necessary to use a citation to give credit to the original author.

Writing a Summary

  • Decide what part of the source is most relevant to your argument.
  • Read through the material and cross out non-vital information. Underline what you believe to be the most important points, even if those points are words or phrases. Your summary will focus on the main points.
  • Re-state/paraphrase the main points in your own words. Make sure your sentences are condensed, and that they use your original language and sentence structure.
  • Follow the order of ideas in the original text.
  • Make sure your own point of view is purely objective (reporting content of the text, only). Opinions should not appear in a summary. If you need to use any exact words or phrases from the original, quote them within the summary.
  • In general, your summary should be 15 to 20% the length of the original.
  • Be sure to go back when you’ve finished your summary and compare it to the original text for accuracy.

View the following short video to recap important information about writing summaries.

Effective and Ineffective Summaries

Original Text

“For nearly 1,400 years Islam, though diverse in sectarian practice and ethnic tradition, has provided a unifying faith for peoples stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and beyond. Starting in the 1500s, Western ascendancy, which culminated in colonization, eroded once glorious Muslim empires and reduced the influence of Islam. After the breakup of the Ottoman Empire following World War I and the decline of European colonial empires following World War II, Muslim nations adopted Western ideologies–communism, socialism, secular nationalism, and capitalism. Yet most Muslims remained poor and powerless. Their governments, secular regimes often backed by the West, were corrupt and repressive” (Belt 78).

Belt, Don. “The World of Islam.” National Geographic. January 2002: 76-85. Print.

Poorly Written Summary

Despite Western-style governments, Muslim countries are mired in deep poverty and radical governments. This despite the fact that the religion has existed for several centuries. European colonization ruined the Islamic religion for a long time. You would find it hard to imagine how many Muslims there really are out there.


This summary

  • does not follow the order of information found in the original
  • the phrase “several centuries” minimizes the historic significance of the religion
  • sentence-level problems such as “mired,” “you would,” and “out there” change the formal tone of the original to a biased, informal representation
  • it is approximately half the length of the original, which is too long
  • no credit is given to the original source; there’s no attribution

Well-Written Summary

Belt states that for almost 1,500 years, Islam has united people globally. Western interference, through colonization and political ideologies, has not improved Muslims’ lives (78).


This summary

  • follows the order of the original
  • maintains the original tone
  • is much shorter than the original information’s length
  • is properly attributed and cited – a reader can tell where the summary starts and stops

Summary Practice

Practice Paragraph 1

“In 1925 the land aristocracy of Germany owned most of the large estates which occupied 20.2 per cent of the arable land of the country. They had 40 per cent of the land east of the Elbe River. All told, these large estates constituted but 0.4 per cent of the total number of landholdings in Germany. At the base of the pyramid were those who occupied small holdings: 59.4 per cent of the total holdings of Germany accounted for only 6.2 per cent of the arable land” (Lasswell 17).

Lasswell, Harold. Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. New York: Meridian Books, Inc. 1960. Print.

Type your summary in the space provided. 

Practice Paragraph 2

“The Indian tribes of North and South America do not contain all the blood groups that are found in populations elsewhere. A fascinating glimpse into their ancestry is opened by this unexpected biological quirk. For the blood groups are inherited in such a way that, over a whole population, they provide some genetic record of the past. The total absence of blood group A from a population implies, with virtual certainty, that there was no blood group A in its ancestry; and similarly with blood group B. And this is in fact the state of affairs in America” (Bronowski 92).

Bronowski, J. The Ascent of Man. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1973. Print.

Type your summary in the space provided. 

Practice Paragraph 3

“A solenoid is an electrically energized coil that forms an electromagnet capable of performing mechanical functions. The term ‘solenoid’ is derived from the word ‘sole’ which in reference to electrical equipment means ‘a part of,’ or ‘contained inside, or with, other electrical equipment.’ The Greek word solenoides means ‘Channel,’ or ‘shaped like a pipe.’ A simple plunger-type solenoid consists of a coil of wire attached to an electrical source, and an iron rod, or plunger, that passes in and out of the coil along the axis of the spiral. A return spring holds the rod outside the coil when the current is deenergized, as shown in figure 1” (Lannon 432).

Lannon, John. Technical Communication. New York: Longman, 2000. Print.

Type your summary in the space provided. 

Here’s another video on summarizing, since this is such an important skill.