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Words of Wisdom

I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.

— Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Summarizing is giving the gist of a chosen passage or work in your own words. An effective summary communicates the main points in a selection but is significantly shorter than the original.


Summarization is a valuable tool for academic and professional writing and can be used for many purposes:

  • To convey a general idea
  • To present only necessary information
  • To set up quoted material
  • To provide support or add credibility
  • To establish background
  • To offer an overview of a topic


Effective summaries use concise, coherent sentences to communicate the key information of a passage. Writing a summary involves deleting extraneous material, highlighting key points, synthesizing overall meaning, and condensing primary ideas. Remember: a summary must remain faithful to the original source’s meaning and emphasis. Avoid giving your own opinions. Instead, maintain a neutral tone as you convey the view expressed in the original.

Steps to Summarize

  1. Read the passage you are summarizing at least twice to be sure you understand it.
  2. Highlight the thesis or main idea.
  3. Identify the portions of the text that support the main idea; underline these sections.
  4. Use major section headings as a guide for summarizing longer works. For instance, you might include the main points from the key sections of a research study: introduction or problem statement, scope of study, methods section, results section, and discussion/conclusion.
  5. Put the original out of sight when you write your paraphrase so you’re not tempted to copy it directly.
  6. Rephrase the main points into your own sentences, but remember to reflect the purpose and message of the original. It’s usually not necessary to include examples and details.
  7. Create a thesis that explains the key ideas of the original. Don’t just restate the thesis; instead, form your own. This will help you re-create the meaning of the original so that it makes sense for you.
  8. To avoid plagiarizing, be sure not only to rewrite the thesis in your own words, but also to change the structure of the sentences, substitute synonyms for key terms, eliminate jargon, remove extraneous details or examples, and condense information to reflect the essence of the original text.
  9. As a general rule, make a summary five to ten percent the length of the original.
  10. Revise and edit to ensure accuracy and correctness.
  11. When integrating a summary into your text, let your readers know that the information you’re presenting isn’t your own by introducing the name of the author(s) or source of the summarized material: “In their research on plant diseases, Doe and Deer found that . . .” or “According to a recent article in The New York Times . . .”
  12. Show readers how the summarized material is relevant to your own argument: “Researcher Jane Deer came to a similar conclusion in her study of . . .”
  13. Remember to cite the passage’s original source information.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

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