A summary -- also referred to as an informative abstract, a brief synopsis or an overview -- is a short version of an original text. The purpose of a summary is to condense information by focusing on the most important ideas in a book or an article. A literature review is a specific type of summary that follows the American Psychological Association style. The APA requires a specific format for in-text citations, including paraphrasing and reference lists. Writers and students in the social sciences, business or nursing typically use the APA style when writing summaries.
Describe what you're summarizing, such as the author and the title of the work, at the beginning of your paper and focus on content that's critical to understanding the original text. The goal is to show your teacher that you have a well-rounded grasp of the material and can succinctly describe the main points. Limit your summary to approximately one-fourth the length of the original text, recommends Washington State University. A summary isn't an analysis, a review or a critique, so don't include your personal opinions, critical evaluations or opposing arguments -- unless opposing arguments are specifically addressed in the original text. Focus on the core issues and discuss the author's purpose for writing the book or article.
Point of View and Voice
Write your summary in the present tense using plain, clear language. Avoid cliches, figurative language and technical terminology in a summary, opting for common vocabulary and simple language, suggests the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. The APA requires that you use the active rather than the passive voice, so ensure the subject in each of your sentences is performing the action. For example, if your summary is on the ill effects of poor teenage eating habits, write:
Some schools eliminate junk food from their school vending machines to address teen obesity concerns.
Writing in the present tense and using the active voice helps readers identify the main message.
A literature review is a common type of summary that's written in the APA style. Be careful not to confuse a literature review with a book review or a literary critique. A literature review is a "critical summary of what scientific literature says about your specific topic or question," according to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. A teacher might ask you to write a literature review to show how familiar you are with a topic or a field that you're planning to research. According to APA guidelines, a literature review typically includes a title page, an introduction and a list of references.
Incorporate in-text citations into your summary as needed. Avoid quotations and paraphrase unless an exact quote is critical to interpreting the information. Be as concise as possible to reduce the number of words in your summary, and always credit your references when quoting or paraphrasing. According to APA guidelines, in-text citations must include the author's last name, date of publication and page numbers in parenthesis at the end of the quote or paraphrase. For example:
One's personality affects their ability to fall in love. For some, it takes years, but for others it only takes a few days (Austen, 1813, p.88).
The APA requires a reference page, rather than a works cited page, for listing the sources you used for your summary. Center the word "References" on your reference page, but don't bold or italicize it. Order your entries alphabetically by the author's last name -- flush left the first line and indent following lines. Put a double space between references. If you're summarizing a specific book, poem or article, the original text might be the only reference you need. However, if you're summarizing Jane Austen's views of marriage, you might include several of her books and accompanying study guides in your reference page.
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