25How to Write a Good Summary

by Danny K. Howard, EAP Associate Director

To begin with, let’s understand what a summary is. A summary is a short writing in your own words about a longer article that you have read. It includes the main points of the original story.

In daily life, we always summarize events. For example, if your friend watches a soccer game, you might ask the friend, “How was the game?” When your friend answers you, she is telling a summary of the game. At work, your boss might ask you to read a long article and write a summary of what it says. So this is an important skill to learn for school, work or daily life.

In fact, one of the most common writing assignments that you will do at NIC is summary writing. At NIC, teachers will ask you to write summaries for newspaper stories every week. For high-level students, you will also write summaries for articles that you read for research papers. Below are a few things that you must do to write an excellent summary.

1 st Carefully read the original story. 

When you do this, highlight important information that you read. Try to understand the writer’s overall purpose for writing the article.

2 nd Write down the writer’s main point in one or two sentences. 

This will be your topic sentence. Make sure you include the title of the original writing and the writer’s name. You might also include when & where the article happens if it is mentioned.

Example: In John Ashborn’s article “The Lives of Many”, he explains the reasons why so many people in large cities live in poor housing areas.

3 rd Write down the main ideas of the story

Look back at the highlighted parts & write them out in your own words after the main point. Make sure your summary is in the same order as the original one. Do not copy the same exact words of the original writer.

For example, the original sentences read:

Credit rating, which is a crucial factor in deciding if someone is eligible for housing, is yet another reason that low-income people cannot find good places to live. For most apartments in more upscale residential areas, a poor credit rating can restrict applicants from moving there.

Now, in your own words:

The first reason he says is that poor people do not have opportunities to move out of poor housing areas because they have bad credit ratings. Most apartments and houses in nicer areas do not allow new residents unless they have a good credit rating.

4th Check for plagiarism

Plagiarism is copying. This is not acceptable for college work. If you do this, you will receive an “F” for your grade. To avoid doing this, read the original article again. Then read your summary. Compare the two writings. Your summary should not be in the same exact words as the original writing. However, it should express the same points in a shorter writing.

5th Make sure it has good form

Put your summary in paragraph form. Make sure you have used good transition words like: first, second, moreover, furthermore, in addition, next, etc. Also indent the first line and make sure that the rest of the summary looks like a paragraph.

If you do all of this, you will learn a very important skill that is helpful for your academic & professional careers!

Sample summary

In John Ashborn’s article “The Lives of Many”, he explains the reasons why so many people in large cities live in poor housing areas. The first reason he says is that poor people do not have opportunities to move out of poor housing areas because they have bad credit. Most apartments and houses in nicer areas do not allow new residents unless they have a good credit rating. He says unpaid bills can cause this to happen. Moreover, many of these people do not have good jobs to afford higher prices for rent. The second reason is because many of these people are single parents. In some poor areas, 60% of families are single parent ones. These people need to live close to the place where they grew up because they need the support of friends and family to help take care of their children. In short, the writer feels that this cycle will probably continue for many years.