What is a summary?
A summary is a record in a reader's own words that gives the main points of a piece of writing such as a newspaper article, the chapter of a book, or even a whole book. It is also possible to summarize something that you have heard, such as a lecture, or something that you have seen and heard, such as a movie. A summary omits details, and does not include the reader's interpretation of the original.
You may be used to reading English in order to answer questions set by someone else. In that case, you probably read the questions first and then read the passage in order to find the correct answer. However, when you read in order to write a summary, you must read in order to decide for yourself what the main points are. This involves reading to understand the message that the writer has for the reader, rather than reading in order to get the correct answer to someone else's questions. Since people have different backgrounds and read for different purposes, it is possible that different readers will interpret a writer's message in different ways. Even if they agree, they will probably write their summaries in different ways. In other words, there is unlikely to be only one "correct" summary. On the other hand, to write a summary it is necessary to understand a passage as a whole, and therefore at a deeper level, than when one's purpose is just to answer questions.
When are summaries used?
1. In general terms, writing summaries is a good way of improving one's ability to read because it forces the reader to focus on understanding the whole of something rather than on just following each word or sentence.
2. In academic terms:
a) If you are reading something that is very important for your studies and/or difficult to understand, writing a summary helps you to make sure that you have understood it. You can also refer to it later to refresh your memory, for example when you are revising for an exam, or when you are talking about it in class. (It is also a good idea to turn lecture notes into summaries.)
b) When writing academic papers people often need to insert summaries of something that they have read or heard. For example, you might want to summarize the the main points of a book that is relevant to your topic. In such cases, it is extremely important to use your own words, or quotation marks if you are actually quoting, in order to avoid plagiarism . (We will talk more about plagiarism later in the course.)
First steps to writing a summary
1. As you read, underline all the important points and and all the important evidence. For example, you could look for all the topic sentences. Words that are repeated several times are likely to be keywords. Transition words can help understanding of the overall structure of a passage.
2. List or cluster the main idea of the whole piece, the main supporting ideas, and the main evidence for each idea. Use of the same keywords or technical expressions is probably unavoidable. However, be careful to express the ideas in your own way, using your own vocabulary and expressions as much as possible, rather than copying or just rearranging. Do not include too much detail.
Many questions on the site will continue to be asked in a general way. In order to help people find an answer despite a lack of knowledge about a certain topic, we want to provide comprehensive responses covering all of the possible answers to the question. If such a response is impractical, then the answer should state what additional information is required and refer the user to more specific related questions. Whether the answer can address all possible answers or not, related questions can be added that are more specific in order to more easily show users where to go for specific information.