Steps in Writing
A summary tells the main ideas of an article in your own words. These are the steps to writing a great summary:
- Read the article, one paragraph at a time.
- For each paragraph, underline the main idea sentence (topic sentence). If you can’t underline the book, write that sentence on your computer or a piece of paper.
- When you finish the article, read all the underlined sentences.
- In your own words, write down one sentence that conveys the main idea. Start the sentence using the name of the author and title of the article (see format below).
- Continue writing your summary by writing the other underlined sentences in your own words. Remember that you need to change both the words of the sentence and the word order. For more information, see video below.
- Don’t forget to use transition words to link your sentences together. See my list of transition words below to help you write your summary more effectively and make it more interesting to read.
- Make sure you include the name of the author and article and use “author tags” (see list below) to let the reader know you are talking about what the author said and not your own ideas.
- Re-read your piece. Does it flow well? Are there too many details? Not enough? Your summary should be as short and concise as possible.
Author Tag: You need to start your summary by telling the name of the article and the author. Here are three examples of how to do that (pay close attention to the punctuation):
- In “How the Civil War Began,” historian John Jones explains…
- John Jones, in his article “How the Civil War Began,” says that the real reason…
- “How the Civil War Began,” by historian John Jones, describes….
First Sentence of Summary: Along with including the article’s title and author’s name, the first sentence should be the main point of the article. It should answer the question: What is this essay about? (thesis). Example:
In “How the Civil War Began” by John Jones, the author argues that the real reason for the start of the Civil War was not slavery, as many believe, but was instead the clash of cultures and greed for cash.
Rest of Summary: The rest of your essay is going to give the reasons and evidence for that main statement. In other words, what is the main point the writer is trying to make and what are the supporting ideas he or she uses to prove it? Does the author bring up any opposing ideas, and if so, what does he or she do to refute them? Here is a sample sort of sentence:
___________ is the issue addressed in “(article’s title)” by (author’s name). The thesis of this essay is ___________ . The author’s main claim is ___________ and his/her sub claim is ___________ . The author argues ___________ . Other people argue ___________ . The author refutes these ideas by saying ___________ . His/her conclusion is ___________ .
How often do you mention the author? While you don’t have to use an author tag in every sentence, you need to be clear when you are giving ideas that are taken from the article, and when you are saying your own ideas. In general, you want to be sure that you always use the author’s name and the article title when you start the summary, and that you use the author’s last name in the last sentence as well to make it clear you are still talking about the author’s ideas. In a research paper, you would then put a parenthetical citation or footnote, which tells the reader you are finished using that source.