How to Write a Summary Paper in MLA Format

Creating a summary paper requires strong reading and writing skills.

The purpose of a summary paper is to explain to a reader what a certain text is about. The summary paper is significantly shorter than the original text and repeats the ideas of the original text in different phrases. This type of assignment can hone your reading comprehension, written communication and organization skills. MLA, or Modern Language Association style is the most widely used format when drafting papers in the liberal arts and humanities and is a common option to use when writing a summary paper.

Read the text about which you want to write your summary paper. Take notes on the parts of the reading that stand out to you, including striking quotes, descriptions and information that supports the text’s theme, or central idea.

Draft an outline for your summary paper. List your thesis, or the purpose of your paper, and mention two or three important parts of the text that you want to re-tell in your own words.

Make the first paragraph of your summary paper your introduction. Indent the first word in the first sentence of this paragraph 1/2 inch from the left margin, according to MLA style. Sum up the main point of your text -- your thesis -- in one sentence without quoting the point directly from the reading. In addition, write the title and author of the text, and include important background information regarding the author or the text using information from the book’s preface or from the author’s biographical website. For example, if summarizing the book “The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump, visit a biographical website that gives details about the author for your summary paper (see Resources).

Write the body of your summary essay in one to two paragraphs, again indenting the first word of each paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Explain what the first part of the book is about, and go on to explain the middle and the ending. Leave out minor points but include significant information. Also, include illustrations or examples the author provides in the text to make your summary paper more engaging.

Draft a bibliography for your summary paper. List the author’s last name followed by the first name, the title of the book, the place of publication, the publisher, the year of publication and the medium of publication (see Resources).

Double-space your summary paper, and make sure the font is Times New Roman and the font size is 12. Set your document’s margins to an inch on all sides. In addition, number all pages in the upper right corner, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin.

  • Do not include your own opinions, ideas, illustrations or interpretations of the text in your summary paper. Also, do not draft a conclusion unless your instructor requires this, as your summary of the text should give the reader adequate information about the text without having to include a conclusion.

YaShekia King, of Indianapolis, began writing professionally in 2003. Her work has appeared in several publications including the "South Bend Tribune" and "Clouds Across the Stars," an international book. She also is a licensed Realtor and clinical certified dental assistant. King holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ball State University.