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What it is and how to avoid it


What is a summary?

A summary is a condensed rewrite of a passage in your own words and style, so that it is significantly shorter than the original.  A summary should be brief, presenting only the most important ideas of a passage. Summaries should take a broad overview of the source material, including only the main points.  

You need to include a citation every time you summarize. 

When should I summarize?

Summarizing is a good option when the wording of the original source is less important than the meaning of the source.  A summary is typically a brief overview of the text (or portion of text) and is very flexible.  A summary is a good option for the following reasons:

  • to condense or reduce the source material in order to draw out the key points that relate to your paper
  • to omit extra, unnecessary information in order to focus on the author's main points
  • to simplify material
  • to provide your reader with background or supporting information that helps them better understand your topic

Note: As with paraphrasing, avoid keeping the same structure of the original material or merely just changing some of the words. Stay true to the meaning of the original material and avoid adding your own ideas into a paraphrase.

This material has been adapted from the University of Houston Victoria: Decide When to Quote, Paraphrase, and Summarize (opens in a new window).

What does summarizing look like?


One reason The Sopranos is so popular is that, on a superficial level, it gives its audiences an acceptable bad guy whose job it is to uphold an alternative system that lives off capitalism without contributing its “fair share” of dues to the power brokers; he comes from a tribe that decided that it wouldn’t work hard to make someone else rich.


Gardaphé, Fred. “Fresh Garbage: The Gangster as Suburban Trickster.” A Sitdown

with the Sopranos: Watching Italian American Culture on TV’s Most Talked-About Series. Ed. Regina Barreca. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. 90-111.


Though his activities can be classified as criminal, Tony Soprano’s success outside of the legal power structure resonates with viewers (Gardaphé 101).

This example of summarizing came from Duke Libraries' Summarizing (page no longer available; redirects to "Citing Sources" 7/26/13).

How do I summarize?

Step 1: Carefully read over the material you want to summarize until you fully understand its meaning, noting key points and main ideas.

Step 2: Set the original material aside and summarize in your own words only the main point(s) of the original material, leaving out unnecessary details.  Be sure to give credit to the source of the material.

Step 3: Check the summary against the original to ensure you haven't accidentally used the same

words, phrases, or sentence structure.  Verify that the information you wrote is accurate.

Step 4: Set your summary aside for a few minutes and work on something different.
Step 5: When you return to your summary, reread and modify as necessary, polishing your own sentence choices.

Note: The materials presented in this section have been adapted from Purdue OWL's: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing (opens in a new window), Colorado State University's: Summarizing Source Material, (page no longer available; redirects to "Writing Guides" 7/7/14) and Duke Libraries': Summarizing (page no longer available; redirects to "Citing Sources" 7/26/13).