How To Summarize Text


A summary is a short recapitulation of a text or story using your own words. Summaries can differ depending on how you interpret the text and on how long the text is. Whatever the case is, it's the person doing the summary who's responsible for rewording the original text.

Purposes of the Summary

The main purpose of a summary is to provide the audience a short and concise overview of the original text but also shows that you have understood the main points of it which is very beneficial when it comes to proving your communication skills.

Common Mistakes

Many students confuse summary with paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is when you say the same thing with different words, but it's not necessarily a shorter version, whereas a summary must necessarily be shorter. Another common mistake is quoting. Quoting is only advisable when the author uses a particular language or expression.


  1. Read the original passage or text thoroughly.
  2. Highlight or underline keywords or important phrases in the original text, write them down on another sheet of paper.
  3. If it is a complete essay what you are summarizing, then outline the writer's main arguments.
  4. Build a sentence with the keywords or phrases that you wrote on the separate sheet. Make sure your sentences are coherent and that you are not using the author's original words. Paraphrase as much as possible.


  • Summaries vary in length from a couple of sentences to several pages. Don't use details extensively, in fact, you should ignore completely the details.
  • Don't quote unless it's really necessary.
  • Don't include your own ideas or opinions.
  • Use the present tense (often called the historical present tense) to summarize the author's points. "Dr. Tyler argues that our skin's moisture content varies according to climatic conditions."
  • Don't use grammar or vocabulary you're not comfortable with.

Example Summary


“The Northern Lights”

There are times when the night sky glows with bands of color. The bands may begin as cloud shapes and then spread into a great arc across the entire sky. They may fall in folds like a curtain drawn across the heavens. The lights usually grow brighter, then suddenly dim. During this time the sky glows with pale yellow, pink, green, violet, blue, and red. These lights are called the Aurora Borealis. Some people call them the Northern Lights. Scientists have been watching them for hundreds of years. They are not quite sure what causes them. In ancient times people were afraid of the Lights. They imagined that they saw fiery dragons in the sky. Some even concluded that the heavens were on fire.


The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are bands of color in the night sky. Ancient people thought that these lights were dragon on fire, and even modern scientists are not sure what they are.