How to Write a Summary in Any Subject

Writing guide
Posted on April 3, 2021

Many students fail with their summaries because they wrongly interpret its purpose. It happens for very obvious reasons such as a lack of syllabus together with no instructions from the professors. Otherwise, it is their personal position to write carelessly. Both situations lead to one simple result, there is a complete failure and a new task to redo the assignment from scratch. Do you want to spend even more hours of redos or rewrites? Probably not, that’s why let’s help you familiarize yourself with the basic requirements regarding the summary purpose.

First off, a summary is related to one compulsory part of a paper. It sums up all the written points including a thesis in the introduction and main body with facts and evidence. If you have this task, it won’t be complex. The main idea is to understand the assigned topic and transform researched conclusions into one brief and simple conclusion.

Secondly, you can be assigned a summary as a separate type of paper. This is an event when you have to do your best to find out the instructions for writing. Here, students fail because they do not reach or exceed the required word count. Note, it will differ in educational establishments but if you have no single idea, it is worth referring to the common limits.

Besides, one frequent mistake may lay deep inside in the topic selection. For instance, your professor assigned you with Psychology and said you could feel free to pick up anything that might be of interest to you. But, it does not mean you can choose banal topics. They are, most of the time, well-researched and do not bring any new informational value. As an example, do not expect to hear applauses or great appreciation of your work when choosing such a theme for summary as Sigmund Freud’s Vision on Psychology. You had better opt for those experts who are rarely taken into consideration. At least, in this case, your work will be considered an interesting one.

Prepare to Write in Advance

Let’s start with your writing. If your task is to write a summary as a separate paper, get to know the following requirements.

A summary is a kind of student’s record of a written piece of work or information. It can be based on a short story, books, chapters, articles, movies, newspapers or magazines. Besides, this work can be connected with the lectures you visited or any news you have heard before. But, as a rule, there should be no new information, details, or reader’s vision on a certain topic. You have to only summarize everything from the author’s point of view.

Let’s pretend you are assigned to summarize an article. Obviously, you have to proceed with its reading. And, when, for example, you have a task to write a research paper, you usually need to reread an article throughout, find out the evidence and facts that can be used to prove one author’s ideas, and underline the results obtained from your investigation. The summary paper, in turn, will need you to reread an article in order to accumulate the main points to provide a professor with some conclusions only.

Commonly, the actual rereading does not proceed with one-two times only. It is highly recommended to read it at least five times and each time with a different purpose. For instance, the first two one has to dedicate to understanding the content, and ideas. The third one to underline the main parts together with useful citings and quotes. The fourth one will be good for reviewing what can be added as well. And, the last time you had better read at the end when your summary is done. It may help to understand how you coped with the task. But, remember, the times depend on your comprehension. Because some may require to read one article 10 times to at least understand what the author tried to deliver to the readers. So, come up with the perfect timeline for you.

When you are done with reading circles, you may come across that it hugely helps to understand the material better and extract many important points. Besides, it is aimed to strengthen your knowledge of the studied subject. Note, any good summary process will then contribute to your memory retention in terms of a degree you get. There are hundreds of materials, students face daily but only the papers based on deep summarizations are stuck in the minds once and forever.

Start Your Writing

After rereading your selected work for several times, you have to spend time on brainstorming ideas about the professionally-looking structure. It is always worth having an outline at hand. If it is an article, you can either highlight the key sentences and then rewrite them in a valued manner in a summary or you can transfer underlined keywords in the outline.

An outline can help to structure information. For example, you can draw a circle in which only key ideas are located and phrases that demonstrate you have understood the work. Together with keywords, make sure to attach your language and expressions. Too much terminology may lead to plagiarism if you haven’t cited it well. So, if you understand that the highlighted words are overused, find the alternative or synonym. Keep in mind, your professor will appreciate your knowledge of the topical language but one may get puzzled with reading if each sentence involves the same phrase. No single ideas about synonyms? Google is your best friend. Thesaurus generator can relieve this student’s stress.

Start with questions you will answer in a summary. For your acknowledgment, you can use the following scheme:

  1. Who wrote a work?
  2. Who or what are the main characters?
  3. When or where does the action happen?
  4. What is the purpose of the work?
  5. What are the author’s conclusions?

And, so on. But, do not paraphrase the whole text. It is your summary, and a curator does not want to see a full retelling of the story.

Forget about criticism. In particular, about unhealthy criticism. It is perfect that you found an author’s weak spots that can be endlessly negotiated but you must decorate one’s vision in a decent manner. So, any negative ideas have to be supported by the evidence and supporting facts only.

Finally, if your article is too large, summarize each paragraph with one sentence. It will give a full picture of the whole work rather than some parts.

Any borrowings or quotes should be properly cited. Remember, if one author’s argument in your summary should not be paraphrased, cite it with online services. Otherwise, a professor during the evaluation will insert it in the plagiarism checker, and your work won’t be unique anymore.

When you believe a summary is done, check whether you answered the most bothering questions that will help a reader understand the value. Check if the author’s arguments and conclusions seem valid and up to the point. After, evaluate your satisfaction. In the end, you can dedicate one or several times to reading the article again. Maybe, it can help find some more interesting facts to use in a summary.

Summary Tips: Educational Pointers From Experts in Writing

Whenever students feel they lack something in a summary, it is highly recommended to address the concerns to the professors. But, some skip this option because they do not want to look helpless. Keep in mind, it is a common practice to visit them in order to follow up with writing. They bring new ideas or correct the actual ones. However, do not forget that begging for help without bringing your personal points is useless. Grab an outline or a sketch, and ask about what can be added more or what is the direction you should move further.

To make your studentship a little bit easier, we gathered the top tips and observations from students, professors, and educational establishments. This information will perfectly fit those who find their summaries incomplete or too simple.

  • If your chosen article is of four and more pages, your summary has to contain at least two pages. If it is a short story on one to two pages only, limit a summary to one page. Usually, the word count depends and is strictly announced by professors. But, do not submit works less than 250-500 words in total;
  • Never include new information in a paper. Especially, it concerns your personal vision that does not relate to the original work. For instance, if you selected the article, and found additionally researches on it, forget about the latter ones because a summary is focused only on the original article;
  • End the summary with the author’s main point. Professors won’t need your observations but details on what the author tried to deliver to the readers. Unfortunately, more and more students end their works with – I think, I believe. And, it automatically is transformed into an essay;
  • Stick to the academic structure. A summary will the same contain an introduction, main arguments, and final conclusion;
  • Do not forget about transitional words or author tags. Says, explains, suggests, believes are common representatives used in any type of paper.
  • Divide a summary into paragraphs. All the works submitted as “bedsheets” are hard to read. The introduction should have its paragraph, the main body its section, and of course, the final conclusion should be separated as well;
  • Understand the readability rate. For instance, such a helper as Hemingway app can assist you with this task. Insert a summary and check what sentences are too long and too hard to comprehend. Then, rewrite them and delete overused adverbs, and minimize passive voice. Finally, find out simple alternatives to complex words.

Last but not least, think about checking the samples online. The Internet for sure has examples of summaries, so do not neglect the opportunity to derive inspiration. It can be stylistic patterns, smart academic phrases or words, and of course a tendency to particular grammatical tenses. Do not borrow those ideas but only take them into consideration. Unfortunately, some students tend to copy the sentences, and then again plagiarism editors spot such intentions.

Proofreading and Editing of a Summary

Now, half of the way is done, and time-honored friend Proofreading may decorate your work as candy. You won’t be surprised to come across a tip to reread your work a few times more but make sure you do it in full. Otherwise, ask your friends or any “beneficiary” whom you trust the most to do it for you. Commonly, students find themselves a kind of blind in terms of mistakes because the hours spent on writing make them omit errors and submit the works naked. Remember, one can also turn to the help of online editors such as Grammarly. But, do not trust them blindly, some mistakes they cannot detect.

Other proofreading and editing tips are:

  1. Remove slang. If the author used it, you can cite it and repeat the same phrases a few times per summary. But, do not overuse it as far as it is still academical work;
  2. Check the spelling of the author’s name. Surprisingly, students do this mistake yearly but only because of a lack of concentration;
  3. Eliminate repetitions. It concerns sentences that do not bring any value. For instance, your two and more sentences can deal with the same idea and do not reveal something new;
  4. Let your summary rest. Leave it for some days if there are no deadlines, and come back to its editing with a fresh mind.

Remember, a summary is a good exercise for daily life. You can understand the works and information easier if you spend some qualitative time on observations of the main points. If you chose a book for spare time, what is the purpose of reading it just for fun? Highlight key details, and think about them. References to your studied materials for papers during the conversations help to maintain any dialog. So, try to summarize anything you come across, and you will boost your memory and expand knowledge without any troubles.


  1. 2020. Guidelines For Writing A Summary — Hunter College. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 March 2020].
  2. 2020. Summary Writing. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 March 2020].
  3. Turabian, K., Colomb, G., Williams, J., Bizup, J. and FitzGerald, W., 2010. Student’s Guide To Writing College Papers. 4th ed. University of Chicago Press.
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