How to Write a Summary Essay

There are two basic types of summaries. First, a reader summary, that you compose to develop a better understanding of what you have read. Second, a summary essay, which is written for others and is an overview of 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 that you want to refer to in your summary, as well as those that shouldn’t be included in your essay.
  3. Now, 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 that 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.

Topic Selection

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:

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • a movie of Ingmar Bergman
  • a novel by Jack London
  • The Critique of the 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 the 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 that 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 their work. Remember, that 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 Summary Essay

Summary Sample

“The Catcher in the Rye”—a novel by Jerome D. Salinger, published in 1951—is one of the most brilliant novels in American literature of the 20th century. It describes the delicate inner world of a 17-year-old teenager, Holden Caulfield, who constan...
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Questions for Summary Essay

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Making your work as personalized as possible is a good thing. However, with academic writing, especially of PhD level, you want to make sure that the ...
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