To answer questions such as "What was the movie about?", "What did I miss in class today" you must be able to summarize. The person who asked you these questions does not want to know every detail. You are only requiredto select the important details and summarize them. Similarly, in your studies in the university you will have various opportunities to summarize the texts you have read.

         You may use summarizing as a useful study technique: you may write down the main points of a writer's article and learn the material you need.

         You may also be assigned to write summaries by your instructors so that they can check whether you have read the assigned passages.

         Most often, summaries are also included in other types of writing and academic papers. In a research paper you revise and summarize information on the topic under study. In an argumentative essay you may summarize texts and research findings that support your thesis.

Here in the prep school our aim is to prepare you for your future studies. Therefore, you should learn how to summarize texts in an acceptable and successful manner.

What is a summary?

The goal of writing a summary of an article, a single chapter or a whole book is to offer as accurately as possible the full sense of the original, but in a more condensed form. A summary restates the author's main point, purpose, intent and supporting details in your own words.

Why summarize?

The process of summarizing enables you to grasp the original text better, and the result shows the reader that you understand it as well. In addition to this, the knowledge you gained by summarizing makes it possible for you to analyze and critique the original text.

How to summarize?

There are several techniques to be used while summarizing a text and they all stress full understanding of a text and require the reader to spot the main or major ideas in it. But before we move any further, here are some useful tips about summarizing:

The Cornell method

Here in this handout we will follow the Cornell method to summarize a factual text. Divide your notepaper into two columns. On the left hand side, write the main points, in the right hand column write down a few details or important explanations about the main point.

Let's assume that you were assigned the news story about the dolphin that lost its tail.

The following chart demonstrateshow tofill in the details as you read along. The news story is not told in the chronological order. If you use the outlining method you may not be able to put the story in time order. However, if you write the main points in the left, and add details in the right column, you see that your summary forms itself in a logical and chronological order.


Main point


  • Dolphin lost tail



  • put in an aquarium


  • learned to swim without her tail


  • prosthetic tail can be a solution





  • real solution is to educate humans

Due to human action

got caught in a line of crab trap





but cannot swim like other dolphins


-it's costly

-requires a long time to develop

-dolphin cannot leave the pool even with the tail

-will require long-term care


especially fishermen about fishing without harming other animals in water




After you have made your notes as you read on, look at your notes again and add any important points you remember about the passage you have read.


To see the summary written by an intermediate student click here. You will notice how much shorter the summary is. The original article is 768 words long. The summary, on the other hand, is only 152 words. To be exact, the text is reduced to 20% of its original length.


Summarizing an experimental report


Summarizing such texts requires adequate understanding of the experimental methods and discussions. In such articles usually the report follows the order:


Suppose you were assigned the text ďBlack tea soothes away stressĒ.

In this part of the handout we will try the outlining method to illustrate how it is used. You can use the Cornell method if you like too.

Read the text very carefully to understand


The following table illustrates the notes made by a student. Notice phrases are used instead of full sentences.

Black tea soothes away stress


  • Subjects: 75 young male regular tea drinkers
  • Experimental design: Ss divided into 2 groups monitored for 2 weeks
    • Experimental group: given caffeinated tea mixture
    • Control group: placebo drink
  • Task: both groups given challenging tasks:

Subjected to one of 3 stressful situations and asked to prepare a verbal response



  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate and subjective stress ratings in both groups
  • 50 mins after the task, cortisol levels dropped by an ave of 47% in tea-drinking group

27% in the fake tea group

  • Blood platelet activation was lower in tea drinkers
  • Tea drinkers: greater degree of relaxation in recovery period


Conclusion and discussion:

Tea drinkers recover from stress more quickly than those who drink a fake tea substitute

Unclear if ingredients in tea responsible

Tea drinking not decrease stress levels but brings stress hormone levels back to normal more quickly ŤImportant bec. slow recovery after acute stress lead to chronic illnesses e.g. heart disease



To see the summary written based on those notes, click here.


Summarizing argumentative or theoretical texts


Summarizing conceptually more complex texts may be different from summarizing factual texts.In such texts, you have to follow the authorís main line of reasoning, spot his arguments, identify the counterarguments he puts forward to refute another argument, differentiate between main ideas, and evidence provided to support or refute arguments. While doing these, you will also have to decide what is essential information and what is detail. All these require very careful critical reading. Do not forget, in your studies your summary will often lead to a critical essay, i.e. response or reaction writing.


Suggestions for writing a summary

Make sure that you note:

o       The thesis

o       The primary assertions, arguments, or findings; and

o       The primary means of support for each point

You may use the annotations:

o       NBŤnota bene good or important point

o       ImpŤimportant

o       Main idea/main argument/first argument

o       Evidence/proof/support

o       Write the first draft of your summary

o       Introduce in the first paragraph the full title of the piece, the authorís full name and the topic of the reading

o       In the body of your summary, clearly explain the important content of the reading

o       Check the rough draft of your summary against the source text

††† As you review your work, make sure that your summary is:

o       Comprehensive: You have included in your summary all of the authorís major ideas, assertions and findings

o       Accurate: in your choice of words and paraphrasing you did not misrepresent the authorís ideas

o       Neutral: you tried to be objective and fair and did not include your own evaluation or comments

o       Independent: a person who has not read the source text can understand what you have written


Suppose you were assigned the text ďMonkey brain research: The case againstĒ. Following the guidelines outlined above, to see how the student who has read this text highlighted the major arguments and other important points click here. From this critical reading, the same student made the following readerís notes:


Monkey brain research


Thesis: no need for brain research on monkeys


†††††† Arg 1: research on primates cannot predict side-effects on

††††††††††††††† humans

†††††††† Ex: amrinone no harm on primates but bleeding in humans

†††††††† Ex: Alzheimerís vaccine no harm on primates but brain

†††††††††††††† inflammation in humans


†††† Arg 2: human and primate brains are completely differentŗ

†††††††††††††† canít understand human brain by experimenting on

†††††††††††††† monkeys

†††††††† Difference:

†††††††† Ex: human brain 4 times larger>chimp brain

†††††††††††††† Chimp brain 4 times larger> macaque brain

†††††††† Ex: biochemical pathways in human brain

†††††††† ExĒ genetic expression


††† Arg 3: real answers in human tissue

††††††† All knowledge about human diseases came from autopsies, pop research and

††††††† studies on human tissues


†† Conclusion: funding better spent on research involving DNA arrays,

††††† bioinformatics, microdosing, human stem cells, large clinical studies not animal

†††††† research




To see a summary written by a student click here.


Written by Zeliha Gulcat Feb 2007††††

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: I would like to thank Feride Hekimgil for sharing with us her ideas, samples of student summaries, and texts she uses for summarizing activities in her class.