What is a Summary?

Learning updated on  September 5, 2023 10 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.

For example, a very scientific article may be dense and hard to read for a non-scientific person, but the summary of that article will focus on the big picture, and word things in a way that will make sense to everyone.

Summarizing a text in your own words may seem straightforward, but there’s so much that goes into building and understanding a brief statement/summary. Luckily, this post is here to explain it all: when and why you’d summarize, how to construct a great summary, and the steps you might take in creating a condensed version of the source material.

(Here’s a secret: the paragraph you just finished reading is a summary of the rest of this article.)

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.

Summarizing can be used to show your knowledge and test yourself in terms of how easily and simply you can convey an overview of a written or creative work.

Let's take a look at the official definition(s) that will guide you on how to write a summary.

Summary definition

Summary definition, Merriam-Webster dictionary
Summary definition, Dictionary.com

Summarize definition

Where a summary, as a noun, is the super-condensed synopsis of a work that conveys the essential ideas, summarizing is the verb form of creating a summary.

Summarize definition, Vocabulary.com
Summarize definition, Merriam-Webster dictionary

Let’s set the scene. You’ve just finished reading the greatest book on the face of the planet. You can’t stop thinking about it━how has everyone not read this story? In your quest to share the book with friends and family, you explain what happens in sentence or two. By listing the main plot points and character descriptions, you’ve just summarized the story. It’s as easy as that!

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.

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.

Here are some of the best consequences of engaging in summary writing.

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.

It is not enough to simply understand the words and sentences on a line-by-line basis; you must be able to read between the lines, so to speak, in order to accurately describe the content within. By trying to summarize a text, you are actively deciphering the deeper meaning and interpreting the message of the piece.

2. Compiling notes

Research and the act of studying both involve digesting information and storing it in a way that makes sense to you.

Instead of memorizing text word-for-word, which would take a photographic memory and the minimum of a million years, you reduce concepts into bite-sized chunks to store in your brain.

The act of writing and reading notes forces you to automatically engage in summary writing and comprehension.

3. Providing a brief synopsis of someone else’s 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.

Much like our example at the beginning of this article, this instance of summarizing is great for providing information or context about a body of work. It is also helpful when supporting an argument, whether that is in a report, a research paper, an article, a presentation, or a conversation because having the key points of an idea or message laid out makes it easier for an audience to comprehend the points you are trying to make.

How to summarize

Writing a summary manually

  1. Read and reread the source text as many times as you need to in order to truly understand the basic message that is being presented.
  2. Make a list of short sentences and fragments that represent the aforementioned message. This will aid you in distilling the core concepts that you want to represent in your summary.
  3. Flesh out the fragments and topic words, arranging the sentences in a way that flows. Remember to keep your paragraph brief━you want all of the necessary information to be presented, but if your summary is as long as the source material, then it’s no longer a summary.
  4. Make sure you are presenting the facts. A summary should distill the subject matter of a text while conveying its original meaning; there is no room for opinions in summaries unless you are summarizing an opinion presented in a text. In other words, keep your personal thoughts and beliefs out of your summary.
  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? If so, congratulations: you just wrote a summary.
  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.

Writing a summary using a summarizing tool, aka a "summarizer"

  1. Read and reread the original text as many times as you need to in order to truly understand the basic message that is being presented.
  2. Copy and paste the original text into the Summarizer tool and click the green “Summarize” button.
  3. Play around with the summarized material; flip back and forth between paragraph format and bullet point format (Key Sentences). Change the length of the summary depending on how much information you want to include using the “Summary Length” slide bar. Finding the perfect structure for your summary is an important step in accurately conveying the information.
  4. Copy, export, or paraphrase the finished summary depending on your use for it.
  5. Cite your sources if your summary is being used to sum up someone else’s argument for use in your own work. This is a very important step to ensure you avoid plagiarism.

Using an instant text summary tool

Online text summarizers come with a number of advantages over summarizing a text manually and can also complement manual summarizing efforts with instant feedback. They break down text quickly, help users edit their work to add or remove detail, and provide support throughout the entire summarizing process.

Let’s look at some ways these tools can be advantageous for you.

  1. AI summarizing tools can aid in checking reading comprehension. If you’re not sure what a text is trying to convey, the summarizer tool will break down the main points into digestible pieces of information, using language that is easy to understand.
  2. If you're unsure of the quality of a summary you wrote, you can also compare yours with the summarizer output for instant feedback. If your summary matches with the AI’s summary, you have objective evidence that you've understood the text completely. This can be especially helpful when reviewing and digesting dense texts, like academic papers and technical writing.
  3. If you input notes into an online summarizer, it will be able to give you a general overview of what your research has concluded. This will help you in better understanding and remembering the information presented in your notes, and seeing it presented in another way can help you retain the details better. Studying for a test? Summarize your notes as an extra resource for yourself.
  4. Summarizers can quickly compare and contrast sources. This is particularly helpful for argumentative essays and fact-based writing. With one click, you can get a short summary of any text that will then enable to decide whether the source presents different information from what you already have gathered, which saves you time in the research process.
  5. Being able to check your own work is both a time-saver and a great way to ensure your ideas are clear and strong. Summarizer tools will highlight your strengths and weaknesses; if the summarizer misses a point you have written about, that is a sign that your message isn’t as straightforward as you may think. Or, it could also mean that tangents in your writing are muddling your message. Try this for restructuring a rambling blog post or a meandering essay.

Examples of summary writing

Sometimes it’s easier seeing something done than just reading about the process, which is why we’ve compiled some summary examples for you below, so when the time comes, you'll be able to write your own.

As you go through these examples, try to pick out the main points from each text, then see if what you came up with matches the message from the summaries given.

Summary Example 1

“Film is the preferred medium of old school film makers, but it’s usually too costly for a studio to authorize. Film carries several disadvantages, that dwarf the authenticity that the film maker is going for. Aside from the expense, film is impossible to reuse. That means a day of shooting must have footage the crew can use, or else every resource consumed that day was a waste. The costs of film don’t end the day of shooting either. Cinematographers who use film must develop it, and then there is the costly process of editing the film.” Matthau, Charles. “How Tech Has Shaped Film Making: The Film vs. Digital Debate Is Put to Rest.” Wired, Conde Nast, 7 Aug. 2015. (1)

Manual Summary

Shooting a movie on film brings about a number of disadvantages that include being wasteful, time consuming, and expensive. (Matthau 2015).

Summarizer Output

Summary Example 1 using a summarizing tool

Summary Example 2


“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.

Manual Summary

Anonymous writing is cowardly and allows people to lie. If journalists are trustworthy, they won’t need the protection of anonymity. (North 1850).

Summarizer Output

Summary Example 2 using a summarizing tool

Summary Example 3


“The curious came from far away. A traveling carnival arrived with a flying acrobat who buzzed over the crowd several times, but no one paid any attention to him because his wings were not those of an angel but, rather, those of a sidereal bat. The most unfortunate invalids on earth came in search of health: a poor woman who since childhood has been counting her heartbeats and had run out of numbers; a Portuguese man who couldn’t sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him; a sleepwalker who got up at night to undo the things he had done while awake; and many others with less serious ailments.” Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”  Casa de las Americas, 1968.

Manual Summary

Those in need of medical assistance traveled from far away. They included a woman with heart issues, an insomniac, and a sleepwalker. (Garcia Marquez 1968).

Summary Example 4



"The Earth's climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia. Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate. The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response. Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming." “Climate Change: How Do We Know?” NASA, climate.nasa.gov/evidence. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Summarizer Output

Summary Example 4 using a summarizing tool

In-text citation: (“Climate Change: How Do We Know?”)

To sum it up

Summary writing is a great skill to have, particularly when you want to check your understanding of a topic, support an argument, ensure your ideas make sense, and save time.

Using online summary tools will give you quick access to the most imperative bits of information from any given text, and they are a great way to review your own work.

A brief summary takes the strongest parts of a message and highlights them in order to best communicate the information presented. While it is a great function, writers must always make sure to cite the source from which they are summarizing.

The best summaries are concise, informative, and contain only the most relevant information. Now that you’ve read this article, you’re ready to go out and create summaries of your own.

(1) All citations are in MLA format for the summary examples. Visit our Citation Generator to learn more about citations and formatting.


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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