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Summarize

It’s the night before a big chemistry exam. John has read all the textbook chapters, but he wants to ensure he reviews all the information. He does not have time to read the chapters again, but luckily each one ends with a summary of the most important topics.

A summary of a text is a brief statement of its main points. Since the textbook's author summarized the main ideas of each chapter, John can now quickly review each one. Reading and writing summaries is an effective way to study dense texts. Understanding how to summarize is thus a critical tool for studying!

Summarize, boy studying, StudysmarterKnowing how to summarize is a useful tool for studying. Flaticon.

Summarize Definition

To summarize is to briefly describe something’s main points.

When writers summarize something, they use their own words to condense it. They write about the main ideas in a clear, concise manner. For instance, imagine a writer summarizing a biology textbook chapter. The writer might include one or two sentences for each concept in the chapter. Summaries do not include minor details but rather outline important overarching points.

Types of Summary

The two main types of summaries are descriptive and evaluative.

Descriptive Summary

A descriptive summary summarizes important facts. In a descriptive summary, a writer does not analyze the information or offer opinionated commentary. For instance, the summaries often found at the end of textbook chapters are usually descriptive. They restate the facts in a straightforward, clear manner. The first example of a summary below is a descriptive summary of Lois Lowry's novel The Giver (1993).

Evaluative Summary

An evaluative summary is a summary in which a writer summarizes information and then analyzes it. As the name suggests, the writer of an evaluative summary "evaluates" the content. Evaluative summaries are thus different from descriptive summaries because they offer the writer’s thoughts on the content. For instance, the second example of a summary below is an evaluative summary of The Giver.

Summarize Examples

Let us take a look at some examples

Example of a Descriptive Summary

The Giver is a dystopian novel by Lois Lowry. Published in 1993, The Giver is about a boy named Jonas who lives in a community where everything seems to run smoothly. No one has individual freedom or real emotions, but they do not know what these things are, so they are not bothered. When Jonas turns twelve, the community Elders assign him the job of "Receiver of Memory." The current Receiver teaches him that the community functions the way it does because the Receiver keeps memories of the old way of life when there was freedom and emotions. Jonas also learns that "release" from the community means murder. This discovery shocks him, and he becomes determined to make a change. He flees the community in the hopes that the memories return to everyone.

Note how this summary only presents the main ideas of the book. Many other events happen in The Giver, and there is a lot of detail about the community and Jonas's friends that the writer could have included. However, this summary gives the reader an understanding of the entire text without mentioning these details.

Example of an Evaluative Summary

The Giver is an engaging dystopian novel by Lois Lowry. Published in 1993, The Giver is about a boy named Jonas who lives in a community where everything seems to run smoothly. No one has individual freedom or real emotions, but they do not know what these things are, so they are not bothered. When Jonas turns twelve, the community Elders assign him the job of "Receiver of Memory." The current Receiver teaches him that the community functions the way it does because the Receiver keeps memories of the old way of life when there was freedom and emotions. Jonas also learns that "release" from the community means murder. This discovery shocks him, and he becomes determined to make a change. He flees the community in the hopes that the memories return to everyone. Lowry does an excellent job depicting Jonas's development from a naïve child to an impassioned young adult. His development mirrors that of so many young adults who learn difficult truths about their world. The novel is an impactful exploration of what matters most in life and prompts readers to reflect on the importance of authentic emotions like love and pain.

Rules and Methods of Summarizing

Every summary will look a bit different depending on the topic, but writers should follow a few general rules when summarizing a text.

Summarize, reading, StudySmarterThe first step in summarizing a text is reading the text in full. Nappy

Read All the Text

To write an accurate summary, writers must read all the text they are summarizing. It also helps if writers actively engage with the text they are reading, employing techniques like underlining and annotating to note important ideas. These processes will make it easier for writers to identify important points to include in the summary.

Thoroughly understanding the material is an important first step when summarizing anything, even if it is not a text. For instance, writers who summarize films or television shows need to ensure they have watched all the content to effectively summarize it.

Identify the Main Idea of the Text

When writing summaries, writers typically discuss the main points of a text as they appear chronologically. They open with an introductory sentence that states the name of the text as well as the author, publication date, and any other brief, relevant historical or social context. Then they recount the main events of a text or the most important ideas an author discussed in a text, in the order they appeared. Finally, writers close their summary with a concluding sentence that underscores the main point of what they summarized. To identify the main points of a text, writers can ask themselves the following questions:

Questions to Ask when Summarizing Fiction

  • What are some key events that occur in this text?
  • Who are the main characters in this story?
  • What are the important settings in this story?
  • What are the themes the authors explore?
  • Is there a moral to this story? If so, what is it?

Questions to Ask When Summarizing Non-Fiction

  • What is the main topic of this text?

  • What is the author's concluding point about the topic?

  • What are some keywords in this text?

  • Are there headings or subheadings that outline the main ideas?

  • Does the author include their own opinion on the topic? If so, what is it?

Summarize, highlighter, StudySmarterHighlighting important words and details is a useful way to identify the main ideas of a text. Pixabay.

Avoid Minor Details

When summarizing a text, writers should avoid discussing unnecessary details. For instance, when summarizing a fiction book, writers should not worry about discussing side plots, characters, or events that do not relate to the main plot. Writers should also avoid including too many quotes from the text they are summarizing. While a few short quotes might help illustrate the main points, the focus should be on describing what the text is about, not restating the text.

Writers need to cite all quotations that they include in a summary. Failing to cite sources is plagiarism, or the act of stealing someone else's work and passing it off as one's own. Writers can refer to the required style guide, such as MLA, and note how to cite the type of source according to the guide.

Importance of Summarizing

Summarizing is important because it helps readers identify and retain the most important information from a text. It also helps writers craft clear, concise sentences by condensing the information. Summarizing can even help readers practice their memory skills since summarizing necessitates recalling the most important points of a text.

Summarizing is also an effective tool for active reading.

Active reading is engaging with a text while reading it for a specific purpose.

Active reading involves interacting with a text that includes many strategies such as annotating, asking questions, and summarizing. When reading a long text, it can often help readers understand it better if they stop and check in with themselves to make sure they can summarize what they just read.

Understanding how to identify the main ideas of a text and ignore extraneous detail is a key skill for students taking standardized tests. Often, test writers will deliberately include distracting information to make it hard for students to understand the main point of a piece of text. Learning how to summarize a text can help students push past those distractors and earn full points!

Summarize Synonyms

There are several synonyms for the word summarize. If these words appear in the directions of an assignment, it indicates that the writer is to summarize information:

  • Abridge
  • Condense
  • Recap
  • Sum up

Summarizing is similar to another technique called paraphrasing, but there are key differences between the two.

When writers paraphrase a text, they put small portions of it in their own words. When writers summarize a text, they provide an overview of all the main ideas. Paraphrasing thus contains fewer, more specific detail than summarizing.

Summarize - Key Takeaways

  • To summarize is to briefly describe something’s main points.
  • Descriptive summarizing is when writers sum up a text without including their opinion.
  • Evaluative summarizing is when writers summarize a text and mention their opinions about it.
  • Summarizing is important because it helps strengthen active reading and writing skills.
  • Summarizing is different from paraphrasing because it condenses the information, while paraphrasing just puts it in one's own words.

Frequently Asked Questions about Summarize

To summarize is to briefly describe something’s main points.

To summarize an article, writers should read the article in full, identify the main points, and then describe them in the order the author presented them. 

Summarizing is important because it teaches readers to identify important information and write in a concise manner. 

When summarizing a text, writers should avoid including minor details, write in their own words, and avoid their own opinions if they are writing a descriptive summary. 

Descriptive summarizing is when writers sum up a text without including their opinion. Evaluative summarizing is when writers summarize a text and mention their opinions about it.

Final Summarize Quiz

Question

What are the two types of summary?

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Answer

Descriptive and evaluative 

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Question

True or False. Summarizing can help develop memory skills. 

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Answer

True. Recalling the main ideas of a text can help improve people’s memory skills. 

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Question

Which of the following should writers avoid when writing evaluative summaries?

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Answer

Minor details from the text 

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Question

Which of the following is a synonym for the word summarize?

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Answer

Condense 

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Question

True or False. Paraphrasing is a synonym for summarizing. 

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Answer

False. Paraphrasing is different from summarizing because it is when writers use their own words to describe information but does not require condensing the information like a summary. 

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Question

What is active reading? 


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Answer

Engaging with a text for a specific purpose 

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Question

What is the first step in writing a summary of a book?

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Answer

Reading the entire book 

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Question

What is the name of a summary that includes the writer’s opinions?

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Answer

Evaluative summary 

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Question

What is the name for a summary that includes only facts and none of the writer’s opinions?


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Answer

Descriptive summary 

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Question

What does it mean to summarize?

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Answer

 To summarize is to briefly describe something’s main points.

Show question

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