How to Summarize a Paragraph

Do you find yourself reading and re-reading the same paragraph without fully grasping the main point? Summarizing a paragraph as you read, especially if you aren't particularly intrigued by the subject matter, will help save you time and alleviate your frustrations. Even though the task may initially seem difficult, summarizing a paragraph just means briefly stating the paragraph's main ideas. To write a first-rate summary, you need learn how to "read actively," focus on key words and ignore unnecessary details.

Read Actively

Read the paragraph once without highlighting or circling any of its text. This will give you a general idea of the subject and the author's purpose without getting too bogged down in details and descriptions. Pay attention to the author's purpose for writing the paragraph. For example, the author of an American history textbook wrote to inform readers, but the author of a travel brochure might have written to convince readers to take a trip.

Re-read the paragraph while looking for words and phrases that the author repeats. For example, a paragraph in a history textbook on the Emancipation Proclamation might repeat the words "slavery" or "Lincoln," in reference to President Abraham Lincoln. Circle repeated words and phrases.

Underline the paragraph's first sentence, which often contains the paragraph's main idea. A paragraph about Lincoln might begin with: "President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of civil war."

Cross out unnecessary information in the paragraph. You are summarizing the paragraph, so you want a summary, not details. Unnecessary information includes descriptions, such as "the first-time visitor to the Greek isles will see sparkling aquamarine seas, craggy hills and beaches of every possible color." Also cross out statistics such as, "Seventy-three percent of Americans in a blind taste test preferred brand X peanut butter." Cross out the information with a line thin enough so you can still read the words.

Write the Summary

Write one sentence that describes, in your words, how the key words you circled are connected to each other. For example, in a paragraph on Lincoln, that sentence might be, "President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to end slavery." Using neutral, unbiased language is vital when accurately summarizing any text. In other words, your summary should be written objectively, without opinion or feeling, rather than subjectively, which would include personal opinions and feelings.

Add one or two supporting sentences. These sentences might summarize, in concise words, the detail or description in the paragraph, such as "The Greek islands are beautiful" or "Most people prefer brand X peanut butter."

Compare your summary to the original paragraph. Avoid adding information or opinions that are not in the original paragraph. For example, the author may have wonderful statements about Greece, but avoid writing statements such as, "I would love to visit Greece someday" in your paragraph.

Compare your paragraph's first sentence with the first sentence of the original paragraph. They should not be exactly the same, but they should present similar points.