Summary

Summaries involve restating the main ideas of a piece of source material in your own words. 

Source: Clearly indicate the source for the summary. You may want to list the source in a bibliographic entry at the start. Below is an example of a selection in an anthology in MLA format: 

Selection in an anthology: 

Last name, First name. “Title of Essay.” Title of Collection, edited by Editor’s Name(s), Publisher, Year, Page range of entry.

Harris, Muriel. “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers.” A Tutor’s Guide: Helping Writers One to One, edited by Ben Rafoth, Heinemann, 2000, pp. 24-34. 

Whether your instructor asks for a full bibliographic entry or not, begin your summary by mentioning the author’s name and the title of the source. 

Main Idea: The first sentence in your summary should indicate the author, title, and the main idea in your own words. For very short articles, this would be enough for a summary, but generally summaries are more detailed. A general rule is your summary should have one sentence for each paragraph of the original. Some summaries could be a bit shorter, though, or a bit longer. 

Other Important Ideas: Most instructors want more than one main idea. They want you to locate other important ideas and put them in your own words. Look for the author’s “proof” that what he or she says is true. 

Quotations: A detailed summary with a lot of quotations is called a paraphrase, but most instructors will accept one or two quotations in a summary. Quote only statements said so well that you couldn’t hope to say them better. Quote exactly and surround the quote with quotation marks. In the text, mention the author’s name, and at the end, list the page number where the quote is found in parentheses. For example: 

Watt states that one false belief of the freshman writing student is that he or she must adapt “to the peculiar eccentricities of the instructor he has drawn in the registration lottery” (4). 

Plagiarism: Plagiarism must be carefully avoided. Make sure that quotes are clearly marked and all other information is in your own words. Of course, you must use some of the same words as the author, but don’t copy entire phrases or sentences. If your summary sounds like you, it’s probably all right. If it sounds like someone else, it’s probably plagiarized. 

 Conclusion: Conclude your summary with a sentence that sums up the main idea.