How to Write a Summary: Academic Writing Skills & Example

Abstract: Summaries are one of the most common forms of writeups that are written in both formal academic settings as well as informal settings. Summaries are generally neither too short nor too long and often exist to perform the function of providing a brief outlook on the larger topic at hand. There are different forms of summaries, such as abstracts, synopses, skeletons of papers, etc. Summary writing is a vital skill that serves to be very important mainly in academic and professional fields.

how to do summary writing example


“One of the most highly valued skills in any workplace that generates a lot of words—whether written or spoken—is the ability to effectively summarize that information into a more concise and readable form. That is essentially what summarizing is. Good summaries are valuable because they keep busy readers informed without demanding more time than necessary to get the information they need. Today we generate and exchange information at a volume and speed that never diminish. Administrators may deal with reports, proposals, policy documents, and briefing notes that together easily reach hundreds of pages. The only way busy administrators can deal with the flood of information is to rely on effective summaries that can efficiently present the most important information. A good summary tells readers enough about a topic that they can decide whether they need to read more.” (Susan Doyle, 2013).

For Academic essays, it is common to refer to other works as a part of the research process and collect information that is required to fulfill the needs of your essay. However, there is a fine line of difference between plagiarism and ethical summarization. Simply borrowing information as it is from a secondary source and paraphrasing it without proper citations will amount to plagiarism. An alternative to that, which is also ethical is to read the article and collect your own observations from the section you referred to, and finally write it in your own words.

Also Read: 10 Ways to Avoid Plagiarism in your assignment paper

Types of Summaries

There are also different types of summaries such as informative summaries and descriptive summaries. Informative essays focus on objective and accurate representations of the information in a particular text. They are also characterized by a lack of inclusion of any personal feelings or motives in the summarization process. Hence, informative summaries are generally utilized in summarizing content of non-fictional or scientific nature. The examples of such informative summaries include synopses, outlines and abstracts.  Synopses are generally brief overviews of the sources you refer to and involves chronological and concise descriptions of events that are being summarized. Outlines provide with the ‘skeleton’ of the main plan or text and showcase the relation between the various parts it consists of. Finally, abstracts are characterized by the portrayal of the major overarching point of a long-written text or essay and aid in giving the readers a general overview on what to expect in the whole essay. Descriptive summaries, on the other hand directly focus on the structure of the text and the main themes it covers, rather than aiming to talk about the information within the text. This is mainly effective in works of fiction like movies, books, literary articles etc. There also exist executive summaries which seek to describe a course of action for a particular plan or project, business proposals etc. (Anderson & Hidi, n.d.). Being aware of the inherent differences in the types of summaries and their characteristics, one can develop an understanding in the intricacies that are involved in the process of summary writing.

Tips for writing a summary

Susan Doyle explains the various characteristics of an effective summary and tips on how to write the well in four parts. “An effective summary captures the most important information. The important information usually includes controlling ideas (purpose statements and topic sentences), major findings, and conclusions or recommendations. It usually doesn’t include any of the following: non-essential background information; the author’s personal comments or conjectures; introductions; long explanations, examples, or definitions; visuals; or data of questionable accuracy. An effective summary is highly readable. People read summaries to get the information they need as efficiently as possible. In a large document, the summary may be the only part a reader actually reads. Make sure to write in a readable, clear style. Translate specific details into general statements (e.g., instead of “47.3% of respondents polled said they agreed or strongly agreed that food labels should include information about the percentage of transfats the food item contained,” summarize to “Almost half of respondents want food labels to include transfats”). An effective summary can stand on its own. Think of your summary as a highly condensed version of the source document. All the extras have been squeezed out, but the essential meaning should still be there. A reader should be able to read, understand and find the essential meaning by reading your summary. Readers should have to turn to the source document only if they need more detail—not to get the main ideas. An effective summary is faithful to the original. As a rule, add nothing to the original. Avoid adding comments or modifiers that add meaning that was not in the original (e.g. “The authors correctly point out,” “The report seems to suggest,” “This important recommendation”). An effective summary is as concise as possible. Use the fewest words possible that still preserve all the essential meaning. Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice clarity for economy” (Susan Doyle, 2013).

Example of Summarizing for Academic Writing

I will now be demonstrating the way in which a text can be summarized with the help of an example. I will be using an excerpt from Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Excerpt: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrowmindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature” (Marx & Engels, p. 16).

Summary: The constant revolutionizing nature in the actions of the bourgeoisie on the means of production and a consistent disturbance in social conditions result in directly influencing the relations of productions. “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind” (Marx and Engels, 1848, p. 16). Marx and Engels examine the character of the continuously expanding market systems, in which the bourgeoisie have to penetrate into the system far enough to establish roots and connections everywhere, scattering themselves all over the globe. There is a rise of a cosmopolitan character to the economic system, one where old establishments and industries are replaced by new ones. There is a unanimous, never-ending creation of new wants, needs and demands characterized by a constant interdependence that is faced by nations toward each there. With the rise of the capitalist economic system, ideals of mere self sufficiency and national one-sidedness become quite impossible ways to tread the global market systems. 

Also Read: Academic Writing – Overview


As you can observe from the summary, only the key points that give a brief overview of what the paragraph entails have been focused on. What I intended to do here is not to paraphrase, but to pick out what the paragraph is trying to explain and write it in my own words. It is important for summaries to be devoid of complicated vocabulary or an excess of unnecessary elaboration. A good summary is one that is concise. Furthermore, during the writing process, one need not worry about missing out on some points, as a summary is simply the bigger picture in brief.

Also Read: How to write a good book review


Anderson, V., & Hidi, S. (n.d.). Types of Summaries. Explain.

Doyle, S. (2013). Summary Writing Notes. English 302: Summary Notes.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1848). Manifesto of the Communist Party.

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Angela Roy is currently pursuing her majors in Sociology and minors in International Relations and History, as a part of her BA Liberal Arts Honors degree in SSLA, Pune. She has always been driven to play a part in changing and correcting the social evils that exist in society. With a driving passion for breaking down harmful societal norms and social injustices, she seeks to learn and understand the different social institutions that exist in society like family, marriage, religion and kinship, and how they influence the workings and functioning of various concepts like gender, sexuality and various types of socializations in an individual’s life. She envisions herself to play a vital role in building safe places for today’s marginalized communities and creating a world that is characterized by equity and inclusiveness, free of discrimination and exploitative behaviors.