10 Tips for Writing Effective English Summaries

People summarize all the time in their day to day lives. You might summarize something interesting that you read in the news. You might summarize what happened at a party that your friend missed because she was sick. You might summarize what a friend missed in class because he slept in. Or you might summarize a movie plot for a friend who didn’t get a chance to see it.

If you’re learning English as a second or foreign language at an academic institution, at some point, you’ll have to write a summary. Maybe you’ll be asked to summarize an article, write a book report, write a response essay, or answer in summary form on a test. Of course, if you’re writing a research paper, you’ll definitely need to know how to summarize. A lot of students find summary writing difficult, so I thought I would share some tips on how to write an effective summary.

So let’s talk about summaries!

1) Preview what you are going to summarize.

This means to look at the title, headings and subheadings, text and font type, photos, illustrations, graphs, captions, etc. All of this will give you hints about what is most important.

2) Read the material and take notes while you’re doing it.

You can use paper and/or you can annotate the original material. Annotating means underlining, highlighting, translating, and making notes in the margins (or on the sides) of what you’re reading. Keep in mind only to write the main ideas.

3) Try making an outline of what you’re going to write about.

This plan will help you organize your writing before you even start.

Now, many of you may wonder: How long should a summary be? Well, this will depend on how long and complex the original reading passage is, how much your instructor or teacher requires you to write, and what kind of reading audience you have. However, you still have get to the point when writing a summary.

4) Be concise (brief).

Yes, you do need include all of the essential information that a person would need to understand without reading the original source, so you must include all of the main points. That’s pretty much what a summary is.

Remember, though, that you shouldn’t write more than the main points. A summary should be as brief as possible. Don’t give specific information. You shouldn’t write details such as numbers, statistics, dates, or figures unless it’s absolutely necessary for the reader to understand the main points. Don’t be too descriptive.

5) Remember that your writing needs to be clear.

A summary needs to be easy to understand to someone who has not read, seen, or heard the original material. Write in simple English.

6) Make sure your writing is organized into 3 parts – the introduction, the body, and the end.

You need to follow and maintain (or keep) good paragraph structure. This means that your paragraph or each or your paragraphs should have a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.

At the start of your summary, it’s a good idea to make it clear that your writing is a summary. You can include the title, author, or speaker of the original material in your topic sentence if you’re writing just one paragraph, or in the first sentence of your introduction if you’re writing a longer summary. The overall main idea of everything you’re summarizing should be at the beginning.

If you’re only writing one paragraph, then the supporting sentences after your topic sentence are the main points. If you’re writing many paragraphs, then remember that the topic sentences for each paragraph should identify the main parts.

7) Follow the same order that the information is presented in the original material.

If you’re summarizing a story where the original story is not in chronological order, it may make it easier for the reader to understand it if you change the order. But in general, you should keep the same order.

8) Paraphrase.

You should not be using direct quotes from the original material. Of course, you should not copy and paste sentences right from the original. That is plagiarizing. Plagiarizing means stealing, and you don’t want to be doing that! Use your own words.

9) Avoid looking at the original material when you are writing.

For example, if you are summarizing a chapter of a book, try to keep the book closed! Instead, look at the notes you took early, in addition to your outline. If you look at the original material, you’ll be tempted to copy what is written, or only change a little bit – which is not enough, probably. Remember, you want to write your own original English sentences.

10) Be objective.

This means you should not include your opinion in a summary. A summary is basically a short report about information from someone else’s piece of writing or lecture.

So, there you go! If you follow these tips, you’ll have more success at writing a good summary.

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