To summarize is to create a shortened version of an original source, using your own words. A summary only includes the main ideas and any basic information needed to understand those ideas.

About Summaries

What are the goals of a summary?

  • The goal of a summary is to give your reader a basic idea of what the original source says.
  • When writing a summary, your goal is to be economical, getting the necessary information across in relatively few words.

When do I summarize?

  • Summarize a source when your audience doesn’t need the amount of detail that the original source provides on a given subject.
  • Direct quotes should be used sparingly. When referencing other sources, it is better to paraphrase or summarize as much as possible.

Tips for a good summary?

  • A summary should be economical, conveying the necessary information in as few words as possible.
  • A summary should be objective, avoiding value judgments or analysis.
  • A summary should be clearly cited, with the source of the information referenced. This is often done with a brief introduction of the author or source text, along with an in-text citation.

Strategies for writing summaries

  • Start by summarizing the single main idea or argument of a source. Then add any specific information, explanations, or context that is necessary to understand this idea.
  • To avoid directly quoting a source, try restructuring sentences or replacing key words with synonyms.
  • To remain objective, avoid using language that compliments or critiques your source or its author.
  • Avoid cutting crucial information. Your reader should be able to understand the information presented in hour writing without reading the original source.

Summary, paraphrase, and direct quote: what’s the difference?

  • Paraphrasing is restating information from a source in your own words. A paraphrase is usually the same length as the original passage. Passages that are paraphrased are usually shorter than those that are summarized.
  • Quoting is directly restating someone else’s exact words. Unlike a summary, you do not rephrase or shorten the original passage.

Sample Summaries

Original Text

“The vast majority of adults—at least 85 to 90 percent—will tell you that they dream. But we recall only a fraction of what we dream about. People can dream in all sleep stages; so we’re immersed in various forms of dreaming for at least two-​thirds of the night, ​and some researchers would even say we dream all night long. If you’re one of those lucky souls who falls asleep quickly and sleeps soundly through the night, it’s unlikely that you recall even 5 percent—​20 minutes—​of those dreams, and most commonly it’s the dream you were having right before waking up.”


Although most adults dream for much of the night, they only remember a small portion of their dreams.








Original Text

“Virtually all dreams have a narrative structure and contain the dreamer as an active participant. They are typically experienced from an embodied, first-​person perspective. Yet we’re rarely alone in our dreams. Most dreams contain at least two other characters. About half of our dream characters are familiar to us—​relatives, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances​—while the other half are unknown, including strangers and people identified solely by their occupational role, such as policemen, doctors, or teachers.”


Dreams tend to feature the dreamer, follow story arcs, and contain a cast of known and unknown characters.


Bullock, Richard H., et al. The Norton Field Guide to Writing with Readings and Handbook. 5th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2019.

“Summarizing.” Purdue Writing Lab, Purdue University, 

“Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing.” Purdue Writing Lab, Purdue University,

Zadra, Robert and Stickgold, Robert. “Theater of the Mind.” Psychology Today, 5 Jan. 2021,

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Compiled By

Mackenzie McGee

Writing Studio Consultant