The Writing Center


Here are some steps you can take to form a good summary.

  1.   In 5 seconds, glance at the article and write down what you expect it to be about—use the title, any breaks in the text, pictures to give you a clue.
  2. Next read the beginning and ending paragraphs. Now what do you expect the article to be about?
  3. Read the article. What's different from what you expected?
  4. What are your own personal reactions to the article—were you excited by it, challenged, bored?
  5. In one sentence, express the main point of the article.
  6. Add to this sentence the social significance of this point: that is, so what that the author has this main point?

On to the next page for structuring your summary.


Most teachers look for the following elements in a summary. The length of a summary depends on how much development you need: development refers to direct quotes, examples, paraphrases or reasoning.

First Paragraph

Include the following things in your first paragraph:

full name of the author
title of the source (in quotes if an article, italicized if a book)
date of publication (either in parentheses or in the sentence)
background information regarding the publication
your focus/thesis
the social significance of your thesis (the “so what”)

Second Paragraph

This paragraph and the others that follow it form the body of the paper. Each has to directly support your focus. It's a big mistake to just retell the story or article. The professor has already read this source: what the professor doesn't know is your focus, your opinion about it. Body paragraphs usually have this structure:

smaller version of the focus
quote or reasoning or example or paraphrase
explanation or opinion

Many writers omit their own opinions and their own reasoning: if this sounds like you, start reading book reviews in The New York Times Sunday book review section. Then you'll see how reviewers integrate their own opinions with the facts of the source.

Other writers have all opinion and no facts from the article or book. If this sounds like you, think about having at least 1-2 quotes or paraphrases per page of text.


There are many ways to end your summary. One way is to point toward the future. Another way is to say why this article was so important. Another is to repeat what you said earlier. Reread the entire thing and something will usually hit you as the best way to finish.