What is a Summary? | Examples & Length

Learning updated on  February 26, 2024 3 min read

A summary is a concise breakdown of the main points from a text, usually written as a paragraph.

Summaries are used to save readers' time, to help with comprehension, or to give a preview of an idea or larger project.

Formulating summaries is an important skill to hone for a variety of reasons, from being able to pick out only the most essential information from a written work to being able to quickly give a short overview of a speech or movie.

What is a summary?

A summary is the condensed version of a text that includes only the most important information.

The goal of summary writing is to make the intention of the original text as clear and easy to follow as possible, while omitting the vast majority of the given details. You want to provide quick access to the most important information available while organizing it in such a way that the main idea(s) are represented in a simple way.

Essentially, it should be a shortened version of the original text that retains the substance of the source.

Summary example
Original: “What weight has anonymous writing with any sensible person? None. It protects falsehood, cowardice, and ignoble ideas; as for its protecting the journalist, as a man, against personal attacks, if he write truth, he requires no such protection.” North, William. The City of the Jugglers; or, Free-Trade in Souls. London, 1850.
Summary: Anonymous writing is cowardly and allows people to lie. If journalists are trustworthy, they won’t need the protection of anonymity. (North 1850).

How long should a summary be?

Brief summaries are best; however, the length of the summary will depend on the length of the original text. A good rule of thumb is to keep your summary around a quarter of the length of the source material.

If you are summarizing something that is a few paragraphs long, the summary should be a few sentences long. If you are summarizing a book, the summary should be a few pages (and this is all dependent on what your professor/boss/etc asks for).

How to summarize

There are two main ways to summarize a text: manually and using a Summarizer tool. All you have to do with the online tool is copy and paste, so we’re going over the steps to manually summarize.

  1. Read the source material as many times as you have to in order to fully understand it.
  2. Make a list of short sentences and fragments that represent the main message and its core concepts.
  3. Flesh out the fragments and topic words, arranging the sentences in a way that flows.
  4. Make sure you are presenting the facts. A summary should distill the subject matter of a text while conveying its original meaning.
  5. Double-check that it makes sense. Read the source material again, and then read your summary. Did you hit all the main points? In the end, does your piece come to the same conclusion that the original text did?
  6. Cite your sources if your summary is being used to sum up someone else’s argument. This is a very important step to ensure you avoid plagiarism.

When should you summarize?

There are a few different instances when summarizing comes in especially handy, and being able to understand a text well enough to highlight the most important points is a skill that is universally valuable.

  1. Checking reading comprehension. In order to provide a recap of a text, you must understand the fundamentals of whatever it is you are reading.
  2. Compiling notes. Research and the act of studying both involve digesting information and storing it in a way that makes sense to you. The act of writing and reading notes forces you to automatically engage in summary writing and comprehension.
  3. Providing a synopsis of another work. Providing a synopsis of a book, movie, academic article, or other various piece of media, is a very common way to exercise the use of summary.

How many sentences are in a summary?

A summary paragraph is usually between 5 to 8 sentences. Remember that brief summaries are the best summaries.

How to start a summary?

Pull out important words and phrases from the source text. Make sure your summary is written around those fragment topics. 

What does a summary look like?

A summary can be presented in paragraph form or in a bulleted list of the main points. It will be shorter than the source text it is summarizing. 

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Paige Pfeifer

Along with Emily Perry, PhD

Paige teaches QuillBot writers about grammar rules and writing conventions. She has a BA in English, which she received by reading and writing a lot of fiction. That is all she knows how to do.

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