What is a summary?
A summary uses the writer’s own words to concisely explain the main point(s) or major argument(s) of a source or passage. Key words and main ideas from the original text should be used to create a brief, accurate review of the source’s original ideas. A summary does not include minor details, and therefore, should be significantly shorter than the original text. Summarized material should be integrated into the writer’s work using a signal phrase, which informs the reader of the source’s author(s), title, and/or origin.
Why is it important to summarize concisely?
An essay generally includes an informed blend of the writer’s ideas and new knowledge gained from reliable sources. A brief summary of relevant material from such sources can be used to effectively support the writer’s ideas. Lengthy summaries of source material should be avoided; too much focus on the ideas of others can detract from the writer’s voice and weaken the content of the essay.
What steps can be taken to help keep a summary brief and accurate?
Summarizing an article or chapter:
- As the piece is being read, look for the main point of each paragraph and take note of key words and short phrases.
- After reading the entire piece, break the content up into sections and briefly summarize each major section in a short sentence or phrase.
- Combine the ideas from the section summaries into a brief, accurate summary of the entire piece.
Summarizing a short text or paragraph:
- Read the text or paragraph closely and carefully to ensure comprehension of the original author’s meaning; make appropriate notes as the text is being read.
- Without looking back at the original text, summarize the text or passage in your own words.
- Compare your summary with the original passage; your summary should accurately and concisely represent the original author’s ideas.
Let’s look at an example:
The following excerpt is from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation. (King) 
The original paragraph contains 140 words, but the following summary captures the main ideas of this part of King’s letter in just 26 words:
King explains that despite nonviolent attempts to achieve peace and racial equality in Birmingham, the city remains a hotbed of unparalleled racial segregation and related violence.
For more information on summarizing, see also:
 King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 1997. 1854 – 66. Print