There are two basic types of summaries: a reader summary, that you compose to develop a better understanding of what you have read, or a summary essay, which is written for others and is an overview of an original text. The point of writing a summary essay is to convey an understanding of the essence of a source text to readers, without them having to read it in its entirety.
Steps for Writing a Summary Essay
- Thoroughly read and study the original text. When you read it, get a feeling for the author’s style, tone and mood, and try to identify the main ideas expressed.
- Divide the text into several sections, and sketch a rough outline. Breaking the text into several parts will make the material easier to grasp. Then read each part once more, but this time highlight some of the key points. Mark areas you want to refer to in your summary, as well as those that shouldn’t be included in your essay.
- When you have a clear understanding of the information in each part of the source, write down the main idea in each section in the form of a short overview.
- Write an introduction. It should briefly present the main ideas in the original text. The introduction should include the name of the author, the title of their work, and some background information about the author, if needed.
- In the main body paragraphs, state the ideas you’ve chosen while reading the text. Expand on them by including one or more examples from the original text. Include important information only and avoid describing minor, insignificant points.
- After you have summarized the main ideas in the original text, your essay is finished. A conclusion paragraph should be added if your teacher specifically tells you to include one.
Summary Essay Topics
You can write a summary essay on a scientific work, an interesting article, a novel, or a research paper. This type of essay can be on any subject. For example, you might want to write a summary essay on:
- Catcher in the Rye (book)
- Citizen Kane (film)
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (book)
- Captain Fantastic (film)
- Lord of the Rings (book)
- Song of Two Humans (film)
- Of Mice and Men (book)
- Mad Max: Fury Road (film)
- Moby Dick (book)
- Ben Hurr (film)
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
- A movie by Ingmar Bergman
- A novel by Jack London
- The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
- An article in The New York Times
- A blog post of a famous journalist
Key Points to Consider
- One of the most important aspects about a summary essay is its connection to the source. Keep in mind that your interpretation of the source can mislead your readers or even distort the meaning of the original text.
- Your summary essay should serve as a substitute for the original source; by reading your summary essay, a reader should be able to develop an understanding of the original work.
- This type of essay is about summarizing the original text, not criticizing it.
Do and Don’t
– Including too much or too little information in your essay.
– Forgetting to cite quotations, so that the words of the original texts’ author looks like your own.
– Concentrating on insignificant details, examples, and anecdotes.
– Trying to interpret or explain what the author wanted to say in his or her work. You must give a concise overview of the source, not present your own interpretation.
Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic summary essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our summary essay samples to link theory with practice.
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Samples for Writing a Summary Essay
"1984" by George Orwell
Text: Analyzing the text is very much like doing literary analysis, which many students have done before. Use all of your tools of literary analysis, including looking at the metaphors, rhythm of sentences, construction of arguments, tone, style, and use of language. Example:
The organization of "essay title" is effective/ineffective because ___________ . The essay's opening causes the reader to ___________ . The essay's style is ___________ and the tone is shown by ___________ . The language used is___________ . The essay's argument is constructed logically/illogically by ___________. The essay is organized by ___________ (give a very brief description of the structure of the essay, perhaps telling where the description of the problem is, where claims are made, and where support is located—in which paragraphs—and why this is effective or ineffective in proving the point).
Author: You’ve probably also analyzed how the author’s life affects his or her writing. You can do the same for this sort of analysis. For example, in my sample reading the response about Michael Crichton's "Let's Stop Scaring Ourselves" article, students noted that the fact that Crichton is the author of doomsday thrillers like Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park makes his argument that we shouldn't pay much attention to current doomsday scenarios like global warming rather ironic. If you don't know anything about the author, you can always do a quick Google Search to find out. Sample format:
The author establishes his/her authority by ___________ . The author's bias is shown in ___________ . The author assumes an audience who ___________ . He/She establishes common ground with the audience by ___________ .
Reader: You can write this section by inferring who the intended reader is, as well as looking at the text from the viewpoint of other sorts of readers. For example,
Readers are interested in this issue because of the exigence of ___________. Constraints on the reader's reaction are ___________. I think the reader would react to this argument by ___________. I think that the author's ___________ is effective. ___________ is less effective because ___________ includes ___________. The support is adequate/inadequate and is relevant/irrelevant to the author’s claim.