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
Nemesis by Philip Roth
"Three Comrades" by E. M. Remarque
The thesis statement declares the main point or controlling idea of the entire essay. The thesis briefly answers the questions, "What is my opinion on subject X?" and "What am I going to argue/illustrate in this essay?"
1. A good thesis states the writer's clearly defined opinion on some subject. You must tell your reader what you think. Don't dodge the issue; present your opinion specifically and precisely. However, don't just make your thesis an announcement of your subject matter or a description of your intentions.
Poor: The subject of this theme is my experience with a pet boa constrictor. [This is an announcement of the subject, not a thesis.]
Poor: I'm going to discuss boa constrictors as pets. [This is a statement of intention, but not a thesis.]
Better: Boa constrictors do not make healthy indoor pets. [The writer states an opinion that will be explained and defended in the essay.]
Better: My pet boa constrictor, Sir Pent, was a much better bodyguard than my dog, Fang. [The writer states an opinion that will be explained and illustrated in the essay.]
2. A good thesis asserts one main idea. Many essays get into trouble because the writer tries to explain two different large issues in one essay. Pick one main idea and explain it in convincing detail.
Poor: High school athletes shouldn't have to maintain a certain grade-point average to participate in school sports, and the value of sports is often worth the lower academic average. [This essay moves in two different directions.]
Better: High school athletes shouldn't have to maintain a certain grade-point average to participate in school sports. [This essay will focus on one issue: reasons why a particular average shouldn't be required.]
3. A good thesis has something worthwhile to say. Some thesis statements are boring and predictable from the start ("Dogs have always been man's best friends."). Even if you are asked to write about yourself or your own experiences, you can usually universalize the essay's thesis so your readers can also identify with, or learn something about, the general subject.
Poor: The four children in my family have completely different personalities. [This statement may be true, but would anyone but the children's parents really be fascinated with this essay topic?]
Better: Birth order can influence children's personalities in startling ways. [The writer is wiser to offer this controversial statement, which is of more interest to readers than the one above; the writer can illustrate her claims with examples from her family, and from other families, if she wishes.
Also, don't merely state a fact. A thesis is an assertion of opinion that leads to discussion; don't select an idea that is self-evident or dead-ended.
Poor: Child abuse is a terrible problem in our country. [Yes, of course; who wouldn't agree that child abuse is terrible?]
Better: Child abuse laws in this state are too lenient for repeat offenders. [This thesis will lead to a discussion in which supporting arguments and evidence will be presented.]
4. A good thesis is limited to fit the assignment. Your thesis should be focused enough to adequately explore and develop in one essay.
Poor: The parking permit system at this university should be completely revised. [An essay calling for revision of the parking permit system would probably involve discussion of permits for various kinds of students, faculty, administrators, staff, visitors, etc. Therefore, the thesis is probably too broad for a short essay.]
Better: Because of the complicated application process, the parking permit system at this university penalizes disabled students.
5. A good thesis is clearly stated in specific terms. A vague thesis will lead to vague, undeveloped, fuzzy writing. Try to avoid imprecise words ("interesting," "good"); use clear, direct, meaningful words. Also, don't clutter your thesis with expressions such as "in my opinion" or "in this essay I'll argue that ..."
Poor: My opinion is that the federal government should devote more money to solar energy research.
Better: The federal government should devote more money to solar energy research.
6. A good thesis is clearly located, often in the first or second paragraph.
Revise the following, thesis statements to make them more effective according to the criteria above.
- In my opinion, applying for a job can be a negative experience.
- There are some advantages and disadvantages to the country's new voting machine.
- Prayer in the schools is a hot issue today.