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Writing a Summary: sub-module 1 of 2 of under types of writing hub

Summarizing is a very important skill. It requires the ability to condense writing into a shorter form while still maintaining the key information. In academic writing, you may be required to write a summary for an assignment, or as part of an essay or report. A summary can often be a building block to larger forms of writing, such as an essay or a case study.

Top Tips

  • Make sure your summary is complete.It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • Have the right level of detail.Be specific, but don’t give too many irrelevant facts.
  • Keep it simple.A summary is meant to condense a larger piece of writing into a shorter form, so you need focus on the main points rather than small, less important details.
  • Keep the same order as the original passage.Don’t jump straight to supporting evidence; make sure to summarize the information in the same order that it was written.


This page was created by The Learning Portal and published under a CC BY-NC-SA license. It was modified from the following sources:

The video “Summarizing stories” from Khan Academy falls outside the Creative Commons license of the page.

How to Write a Summary

What is a summary?

A summary is putting someone else’s words into your own words. It involves shortening the source material into a smaller, condensed summary. When you write a summary, you highlight major details of the source material so that your reader knows broadly what the source material says. A summary should not have your own opinions or new ideas in it. For more information and an example, watch the video below:

How do you write a summary?

Follow the process below to write useful summaries.

Before you create a summary/response, complete a careful reading of the text. You can use a pen, pencil, or highlighter and mark the reading as you go to help you understand what you read. Here are some suggested notations you can use:

  • Put stars next to information that feels important.
  • Circle new words that you are unfamiliar with.
  • Draw question marks next to passages that are unclear.
  • Write questions you have and connections you make in the margins that occur as you read.
  • Use any other symbols that help you find meaning in the text.

When you are done reading and marking, answer the following questions:

  • What is the topic of the reading? This is a word or phrase that answers the question: “What is the text about?”
  • What is the main idea/thesis of the entire essay/article? This is the most important thing being said about the topic. It is a general statement that all of the information in the reading supports. It can be a lesson or important point that is made. This statement reflects and unifies the entire meaning of the reading.
  • What evidence is used to support the thesis or main idea you wrote down? Identify the big ideas in the reading that explain and support the main idea/thesis.
  • What is in the reading that made you draw the conclusion as to what the main idea/thesis is?

Capture the most important ideas from the text and shorten and paraphrase them. The summary should be a concise-but-thorough, fair, objective restatement of the original text. It should reflect the author’s viewpoint, not your own.

Consider starting your summary paragraph by typing the title of the reading, followed by the author’s name, and the main idea. For example, an opening line of a summary/response might look like this:


In “Son of Saddam,” Don Yaeger states* that Uday Saddam used his position of authority to abuse and scare athletes instead of motivating them. (*Pick an appropriate present tense verb: claims, explains, defends, insists, asserts, compares, warns, observes, condemns, suggests, refutes, shows, etc.)

Follow this by explaining the textual support for your statement in your own words.

After the first mention of the author’s full name, refer to him or her only by the last name, e.g. “Smith argues” instead of “John argues” or “John Smith argues.”

Tip: To ensure that you are using your own words, put away the source material after you read it. This will force you to use your own words instead of making small changes to the original text.

Once your summary feels complete, take out the text you read and your summary and compare the two for accuracy. Check your summary to make sure the following elements are included and accurate:

  • A main idea/ thesis
  • Appropriate and adequate evidence that backs the main idea/thesis
  • A summary statement (restatement of the main idea/thesis)
  • Transitions that move the reader from one idea to the next, e.g. in short, in summary, furthermore, and in addition.

What does a summary look like?

Here is an example of a summary of the movie Shrek (2001). Watch the video to see how to construct the summary step by step. Below, you can read the major details of the film and the summary that was created using those details.

Film Summary

Major details:

  • Shrek is an ogre
  • Shrek lives in a bog
  • The townspeople are afraid of him
  • He is lonely and a little depressed
  • He becomes friends with Donkey
  • Lord Farquaad sends Shrek to rescue Fiona and bring her back to be his wife
  • Lord Farquaad only wants to marry Fiona so he can become king
  • Shrek rescues Fiona from a castle after outrunning a dragon
  • Fiona buys into the courtly love ideal
  • Shrek makes fun of the courtly love ideal
  • Dragon falls in love with Donkey
  • It takes two days for Shrek, Fiona and Donkey to return to Duloc
  • Fiona turns into an ogre at sunset but hides this fact from Shrek
  • A lover’s quarrel almost keeps Shrek and Fiona apart
  • Donkey plays matchmaker
  • Fiona chooses Shrek at the last minute when Lord Farquaad’s scheme is revealed
  • Shrek and Fiona fall in love and get married Fiona chooses to live as an ogre

Minor details:

  • There are three sequels
  • Donkey talks a lot, sings and annoys Shrek
  • On the journey, Shrek, Fiona and Donkey fight Robinhood and his merry men
  • All the fairytale creatures are banished from Farquaad’s kingdom to Shrek’s bog
  • Shrek goes to Duloc to find out what’s going on and ends up fighting Farquaad’s knights
  • All the fairytale creatures come to Shrek and Fiona’s wedding
  • Fiona sings well and she’s a good fighter
  • Prince Farquaad takes advice from a magic mirror
  • Farquaad is short and bossy

Example summary of the movie Shrek 

Dreamworks Animation made the film Shrek about three misfits who are transformed by love.  Shrek lives in a bog surrounded by townspeople who chase him with pitchforks.  He is lonely and a little depressed until he meets Donkey who, despite his annoying habits, becomes Shrek’s best friend.  After Prince Farquaad, who is extremely short and bossy, banishes all the fairytale creatures from his kingdom to Shrek’s bog, Shrek and Donkey go to Duloc to find out how to get the swamp back.  They meet Lord Farquaad who, on the advice of Magic Mirror, has determined to marry the Princess Fiona in order to become king.  Impressed by the way Shrek pulverizes his knights, Farquaad asks him to rescue Fiona and bring her back to Duloc.  Shrek outruns a dragon (who falls in love with Donkey) to rescue Fiona who is obsessed with the courtly ideal of love.  Shrek, on the other hand, makes fun of the tradition of courtly love.  Shrek, Fiona and Donkey walk back to Duloc together, camping out at night.  Fiona hides at sunset so that Shrek doesn’t see how she turns into an ogre each night.  Not only does the enchanted Fiona sing well, but she’s also a good fighter and proves her metal by taking on Robinhood and his merry men.  A lover’s quarrel almost keeps Shrek and Fiona apart, but Donkey plays matchmaker.  Fiona chooses Shrek at the last minute when Lord Farquaad’s scheme is revealed.  Shrek and Fiona, the ogre, invite all the fairytale creatures to their wedding.  This comedy with its well-chosen soundtrack entertains both kids and adults who are especially amused by the way the film pokes fun at the standard fairytale and Disney characters.  Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz are great together in the original and all three sequels.