Drafting Your Summary

A good summary begins with close and attentive reading. As you read, be sure to watch for the overall topic and main idea as well as the topic sentences for each paragraph. In addition, use active reading skills—making predictions, making connections, asking questions, and annotating—in order to develop a solid foundation on which to build your summary.

Remember to find the topic of an essay by looking for clues in the title and by reviewing the first paragraph. The topic should become apparent fairly quickly, but the main idea may require some more digging. Often times, the main idea for an entire essay can be found near the end of the introduction; the main idea or topic sentence for a body paragraph can usually be found at the beginning of the paragraph.

To start drafting your summary, create a brief outline. Jot down the overall main idea or thesis in your own words, and list the main point of each paragraph, again in your own words. For longer readings, you can write down the main point of each section that has a heading. For a book, you may want to write the main point of each chapter. Your outline will provide you with a framework of the reading, but a summary is much more than an outline.

As a critical reader, you must identify the author’s overall purpose in writing the piece and, if possible, include this information in the summary. You must also consider the support provided within each paragraph of the text. Determine which support is fact and which is opinion, and consider which support seems to be the strongest. Although you want to be a thorough reader, in your summary, you will want to focus only on the most significant supporting details. In addition, you should try to understand the author’s point of view. Your summary should not criticize or praise the reading, but it can provide fair observations regarding any bias or slant in the writing.

Working from your outline, draft a summary that briefly explains the author’s main points and includes a few limited supporting details if necessary to help clarify those points. If your summary is primarily for your own use, either in your notes or in a bibliography that only you will see, you do not need to worry too much about your writing style. If the summary is for an assignment, however, use care in drafting, revising, and editing your work. In either case, you should strive for conciseness and always write in your own words.