How to Summarize an Essay or Article

Creating a summary of what you read helps you retain that information.

A summary is a condensed restatement, in your own words, of an author's work. That work may be an article, essay or anything else. Writing a summary will help you better understand what you read, internalize the main ideas, clarify them and be able to use that information more readily in a test or in your own writing.

Give yourself time to read the essay or article more than once. Read it the first time at your normal pace, taking it in as a whole. Then read it a second time more deliberately, noting anything that is especially important. Record those important sections by annotating the text, which means underlining, highlighting or recording that information on paper or your computer.

Put the essay or article away when it's time to start writing the summary. This will help you evaluate just how well you know what you've read twice and annotated. Think of it this way: what would you say if a friend asked you what a movie was about that you saw last weekend? Chances are you could rattle off a decent summary of the movie without much effort. You may have forgotten the details, but you remember the highlights. The same is true here: what are the important highlights of the writing you read? Write that information down, in as correct order as possible.

Include the essay or article title and the author's name in the first or second sentence. For example, "In 'The Penalty of Death,' H.L. Mencken argues . . ." then provide the information you remember. After you've drafted your summary, refer back to your notes to revise and augment as necessary.

Omit most details, but include all important highlights or main points. Do not include your opinions, interpretations or evaluations. The summary should be a thorough, fair, objective restatement of the original.

Compare your summary with the original. Add anything obvious that you previously omitted, and make sure that you don't too closely copy anything from the original. If you have, revise your writing.

  • After the first mention of the author's full name, refer to him or her only by the last name: Smith argues . . . instead of John argues . . ..

This article was created by a professional writer and edited by experienced copy editors, both qualified members of the Demand Media Studios community. All articles go through an editorial process that includes subject matter guidelines, plagiarism review, fact-checking, and other steps in an effort to provide reliable information.