Summarizing

A summary is a synthesis of the key ideas of a piece of writing, restated in your own words – i.e., paraphrased.  You may write a summary as a stand-alone assignment or as part of a longer paper.  Whenever you summarize, you must be careful not to copy the exact wording of the original source.


How do I summarize?

A good summary:

  • Identifies the writer of the original text.

  • Synthesizes the writer’s key ideas.

  • Presents the information neutrally.

Summaries can vary in length.  Follow the directions given by your instructor for how long the summary should be.


An example of summarizing:

Original text:

America has changed dramatically during recent years. Not only has the number of graduates in traditional engineering disciplines such as mechanical, civil, electrical, chemical, and aeronautical engineering declined, but in most of the premier American universities engineering curricula now concentrate on and encourage largely the study of engineering science.  As a result, there are declining offerings in engineering subjects dealing with infrastructure, the environment, and related issues, and greater concentration on high technology subjects, largely supporting increasingly complex scientific developments. While the latter is important, it should not be at the expense of more traditional engineering.

Rapidly developing economies such as China and India, as well as other industrial countries in Europe and Asia, continue to encourage and advance the teaching of engineering. Both China and India, respectively, graduate six and eight times as many traditional engineers as does the United States. Other industrial countries at minimum maintain their output, while America suffers an increasingly serious decline in the number of engineering graduates and a lack of well-educated engineers. (169 words)

(Source:  Excerpted from Frankel, E.G. (2008, May/June) Change in education: The cost of sacrificing fundamentals. MIT Faculty Newsletter, XX, 5, 13.)


One-paragraph Summary:

In a 2008 Faculty Newsletter article, “Change in Education: The cost of sacrificing fundamentals,” MIT Professor Emeritus Ernst G. Frankel expresses his concerns regarding the current state of American engineering education.  He notes that the number of students focusing on traditional areas of engineering has decreased while the number interested in the high-technology end of the field has increased.   Frankel points out that other industrial nations produce far more traditionally-trained engineers than we do, and believes we have fallen seriously behind. (81 words)

Why is this a good summary?



The summary identifies the writer, the date of publication, and the source, and restates the key ideas using original wording.  The summary reports on the author’s point of view, but reports this neutrally.


One-line summary:

MIT Professor Emeritus Ernst G. Frankel (2008) has called for a return to a course of study that emphasizes the traditional skills of engineering, noting that the number of American engineering graduates with these skills has fallen sharply when compared to the number coming from other countries. (47 words)

Why is this a good summary?

This one-line summary identifies the writer and synthesizes the key ideas.  A short summary like this might appear in the literature review of research paper in which the student gathers together the findings or opinions of scholars on a given subject.


What is the difference between paraphrasing and summarizing?

Summarizing and paraphrasing are somewhat different. A paraphrase is about the same length as the original source, while a summary is much shorter. Nevertheless, when you summarize, you must be careful not to copy the exact wording of the original source. Follow the same rules as you would for paraphrase.