How to Write a Summary: An Essential Guide

How do you write a summary? Let’s discuss the best techniques for summarizing, and take a look at some summary examples!

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Summarizing a text is an essential skill that can both create and demonstrate a deep understanding of a text. But how do you write a summary that condenses several pages of text into one or two paragraphs? Luckily there are some techniques will help you create brilliant summaries. Read on to unlock the power of summarizing and transform your reading and writing today! 

What is a summary?

A summary is when you take a longer piece of writing, fiction or nonfiction, and you write a brief explanation of only its vital parts. For example, in a nonfiction piece, you only relay the main idea, thesis, and supporting details. In a fictional text, you discuss the main character, their conflict, and the plot’s resolution. 

How do you start a summary?

To start a summary, read the original text carefully and try to understand its main ideas and arguments. Then, identify the key points and concepts most important to the text’s meaning. Once you know the text well, you can begin to write your summary, which should provide a brief and concise overview of the original work’s main points. 

To start your summary, begin with a sentence that introduces the author and title of the work, along with a brief statement about the topic or subject matter. From there, you can summarize the text’s central ideas clearly and concisely.

How to write a summary

What should a good summary include?

As we’ve already discussed, a good summary will identify the main ideas, central arguments, supporting details, main characters, plot points, etc. But let’s break down specific types of texts and discuss what you should include when summarizing each. We’ll start with nonfiction. 

What to include in a summary of a nonfiction text: 

Here are some key elements to include in a summary of a nonfiction text:

  • Main topic: Identify the main topic or subject matter of the text. What is the author trying to convey or inform the reader about?
  • Thesis statement: Look for the author’s main argument or thesis statement, which is typically presented early in the text and provides the main point or purpose of the writing.
  • Key points: Identify the essential issues that the author makes to support their thesis or argument. These may include examples, evidence, or supporting details.
  • Structure: Note how the text is structured, including any sections, chapters, or subheadings. This can help you organize your summary and identify the most crucial information.
  • Tone: Pay attention to the author’s tone and style, which can provide insight into their perspective or approach to the subject matter.
  • Conclusion: Consider the author’s final thou

What to include in a summary of a fictional text:

What to include in a summary of an argumentative or persuasive text: 

Here are some key elements to include in a summary of an argumentative or persuasive text:

  • The author’s name and background and possible bias 
  • Central claim: Identify the main claim or thesis statement of the text. What is the author’s central argument or position on the topic?
  • Supporting evidence: Note the evidence that the author uses to support their arguments, such as statistics, research studies, or expert opinions.
  • Counterarguments: Look for any counterarguments the author presents and how they respond. This can provide insight into the author’s reasoning and the strength of their argument.
  • Rhetorical devices: Pay attention to the author’s use of rhetorical devices, such as emotional appeals, persuasive language, and logical fallacies. These can help you understand the author’s intent and approach.
  • Conclusion: Consider the author’s final thoughts or call to action. What does the author want the reader to do or believe as a result of reading the text?

What are the four steps in writing a summary?

What are the four steps in writing a summary?
  1. Read the original text carefully and identify the main ideas and arguments. It’s essential to understand the text fully before summarizing it.
  2. Identify the key points and concepts. Focus on the most critical information and try to distill it into its essence.
  3. Write a brief overview of the text, summarizing its main points. Your summary should be concise and clear, providing an overview of the original text’s essential elements.
  4. Review and revise your summary. After completing your summary, take the time to review and revise it, ensuring that it accurately represents the original text and that it is well-written and easy to understand.

Best techniques for summarizing

Best techniques for summarizing

Who, What, When, Where, Why 

Using the five Ws technique is an excellent way to summarize fiction and nonfiction texts. Answer each question represented by the five Ws in a sentence or two. 

  • Who are the important people or characters involved? 
  • What is the critical point or central idea of the writing?
  • When did the story occur, or what are the necessary time periods?
  • Where did the story take place?
  • Why is this information important to readers?

If you’d like to read more about the five Ws, check out this article on inverted pyramid writing

Somebody Wanted, But So Then 

Somebody Wanted But So Then is another handy tool for outlining original texts and summarizing. If you’d like to learn more about this technique, we’ve written an entire article which you can read here.

  • Somebody- who are the key people mentioned in the text?
  • Wanted- describe the motivations behind the actions of essential players 
  • But- what is obstructing these people from achieving their goals?
  • So- how do they overcome these obstructions?
  • Then- what happens after these goals are achieved? 

Those are two specific strategies, but a general list of techniques for summarizing a text is below. 

Here are some of the best techniques for summarizing:

  • Read the original text carefully and try to understand its main ideas and arguments.
  • Identify the most crucial information, including the subject matter, critical arguments, and main points.
  • Use your own words to summarize the text. Avoid copying and pasting directly from the original work.
  • Focus on the big picture. Don’t get bogged down in the details; try to capture the essence of the text’s main ideas.
  • Be concise. Summaries should be brief and concise, providing an overview of the original text’s essential elements.
  • Use formatting to highlight the most essential information. Use headings, bullet points, or bolded text to highlight the key issues.
  • Review and revise your summary. After completing your summary, take the time to review and revise it, ensuring that it accurately represents the original text and that it is well-written and easy to understand.

What are good summary starter sentences?

Here are ten good summary starter sentences that can help you write a practical summary:

  1. In this article/book/report, the author discusses…
  2. The main idea of the text is…
  3. This work is about…
  4. According to the author…
  5. The key arguments of the text are…
  6. The author examines…
  7. The focus of the text is…
  8. This text explores…
  9. The central thesis of the work is…
  10. The main point(s) of the text can be summarized as…

By starting your summary with one of these sentences, you can introduce the text and quickly establish its main topic and purpose. From there, you can move on to summarizing the key ideas and arguments in a concise and easy-to-understand manner.

What are good summary starter sentences?

How do you write a one-sentence summary?

To write a one-sentence summary, you need to distill the main idea of the original text into a concise, straightforward sentence that captures the essence of the work. To do this, you should identify the most crucial information, including the subject matter, key arguments, and main points, and then condense it into a single sentence that accurately reflects the original text’s content. Your one-sentence summary should be brief, to the point, and easy to understand, providing a clear overview of the work’s main ideas in a single statement.

Summary examples:

Summary example
‘The Crucible’ starring Saorise Ronan and Ben Whishaw
Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld/Philip Rinaldi/AP

As you read each of these summaries, notice a few similarities between all of them. Each fictional summary mentions the author, setting, and main characters. There are brief details about the plot, usually focusing on the story’s conflict. The summary wraps up by discussing the major themes of each work. 

Summary of Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a dystopian novel set in a future society where books are banned, and “firemen” burn any found. The story follows Guy Montag, a fireman who begins to question his role in society and eventually rebels against it. Along the way, he meets a group of rebels who are preserving books by memorizing them. The novel explores censorship, conformity, and the power of literature to inspire change.

Summary of The Crucible 

The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a play set in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, during the 1692 witch trials. The story follows a group of young girls who are caught dancing in the woods and accusing others in the community of witchcraft to avoid punishment. The accusations quickly spiral out of control, leading to mass hysteria and several trials and executions. The play explores themes of mass hysteria, mob mentality, and the dangers of religious extremism. 

Summary of Macbeth 

Macbeth is a tragedy by William Shakespeare that tells the story of a Scottish general, Macbeth, who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become king. Consumed by ambition, Macbeth murders the king and becomes the new ruler, but his guilt and paranoia lead him to commit more crimes and become increasingly isolated. The play explores themes of ambition, power, shame, and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

Summary of Disney’s Frozen 

Frozen is a Disney animated musical film that tells the story of two sisters, Anna and Elsa, who live in the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa has the power to create ice and snow, but she has kept it hidden from Anna and everyone else since an incident in their childhood. When Elsa’s powers are accidentally revealed, she flees to the mountains, causing eternal winter to descend on Arendelle. Anna sets out to find Elsa and bring her back to reverse the winter, accompanied by Kristoff, a mountain man, his reindeer, Sven, and a snowman named Olaf. Along the way, they encounter various challenges and obstacles, including Elsa’s fear of hurting others with her powers. The film explores themes of sisterhood, love, self-discovery, and acceptance.

Summarizing Versus Paraphrasing

Summarizing and paraphrasing are two distinct techniques used in academic and professional writing to convey information from a source in a new and concise manner.


Summarizing involves condensing the main points and ideas of a text into a shorter version while retaining the essential meaning. A summary provides a brief overview of the original text, highlighting the key arguments, findings, or conclusions. It typically reduces the length of the source material significantly and presents a broader view of the topic. Summarizing requires understanding the main ideas and supporting details and presenting them in a clear and concise manner without including any personal opinions or interpretations.


On the other hand, paraphrasing involves restating the original text in your own words while maintaining the same meaning. Paraphrasing aims to capture the essence of the source material by rephrasing sentences and using different vocabulary and sentence structure. Unlike summarizing, paraphrasing retains more of the original text’s length and structure, and it may include specific details or examples that were present in the source. Paraphrasing is useful when you want to incorporate information from a source into your own writing while avoiding plagiarism.

Both summarizing and paraphrasing require careful reading and comprehension of the original text. They serve different purposes: summarizing provides a brief overview, while paraphrasing involves rephrasing the original text in a new way. Both techniques are valuable tools for presenting information from sources in a clear, concise, and original manner.

Read More on Summarzing:

Need help summarizing? Check out QuillBot the AI summarizing tool

When should I paraphrase, and when should I summarize?- UC Toronto

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