Summarizing Sources: Definition and Examples of Summary
Last updated 1/5/2017
Visual: The screen shows the Walden University Writing Center logo along with a pencil and notebook. “Walden University Writing Center.” “Your writing, grammar, and APA experts” appears in center of screen. The background changes to the title of the video with books in the background.
Audio: Guitar music plays.
Visual: Slide changes to the title “Summarizing Sources” and the following:
- Central thesis, argument, or purpose
- Main ideas, findings, or conclusions
Definition: An articulation of a source’s basic argument and main points.
Audio: Summary, in its simplest form, is an articulation of a source’s basic argument and main points. What this means is that it’s broad in nature. A summary doesn’t focus on one idea or fact from a source. Instead, it gives an overview of the entire source. This overview should include the source’s central thesis, argument, or purpose, as well as the source’s main ideas, findings, or conclusions. Think of this as a high-level overview of the source. Finally, you may also include the context in which the article was written. For example, you might note if an article was written in response to a government policy or refuting another study.
Visual: The slide changes to the following: What makes a strong summary?
- Balancing accuracy with concision
- High-level overview of main points
- Ensuring your voice as the author
Audio: There are a few things you can do to write a strong summary. First, your summary should be accurate. You need to make sure you are accurately representing the source and the author’s ideas in your summary. Doing so can often be a balancing act; you don’t want to include too many details, but you do need to include enough information so that you can accurately convey what the source said to your reader. Think about your summary in this way: If you were giving a colleague the gist of the article, what main points would you include to ensure he or she understood the overall points of the source?
Next, your summary should be concise. Because a summary is a high-level overview and broad in scope, a summary will be longer than a paraphrase. A paraphrase is a concise rephrasing of a particular idea or piece of information in one or at most two sentences. As a result, even a concise summary will be longer than a paraphrase, at least a couple of sentences long. However, your summary shouldn’t be too long either; most of the time you should be able to summarize a source in one paragraph. However, the length of your summary will always depend on the length of the original source and the level of detail you need based on your assignment’s guidelines.
Finally, your summary should use paraphrases, not quotes. Because summaries are a high-level overview, put the source’s information into your own words, rather than quoting the original source. Doing so will help increase the flow of your summary and ensure your voice as the author comes through. Paraphrasing rather than quoting will also help you keep your summary concise. There could be scenarios where you might want to partially quote a key phrase, but even that should be done sparingly.
Visual: The slide changes to the following:
In their research, DeBruin-Parecki and Slutzky’s (2016) studied current U.S. pre-K standards, which are meant to set up students for success in kindergarten and beyond. The authors collected quantitative and qualitative data from diverse survey respondents about pre-K learning standards. The key finding from this study was the positive viewpoint most pre-K teachers have of the national learning standards.
Audio: Let’s take a look at this sample summary. As you can see, this summary is a high-level overview of this source. It starts by introducing the source’s authors with a full citation and introducing the topic or focus of the source. It then transitions to discussing the data the authors collected, ending with the authors’ key finding.
This sample summary is accurate, concise, and includes paraphrased main ideas, the three things that make a strong summary. It accurately represents the source authors’ original ideas, while still being concise. The summary’s author also put all of these ideas into their own words.
Visual: The following are overlayed on the paragraph: “the authors” or “this study”
Audio: The final note I want to make here is about citations. It’s important to cite the source in the first sentence of the summary. In subsequent sentences, the citation isn’t necessarily required, although it is important to ensure the reader knows you’re continuing to discuss the same source. This might mean using phrases like “the authors” or “this study”, but you may also include citations in each of these sentences too.
If you’re not sure whether you should cite the source in each sentence in a summary, be sure to ask your instructor.
Visual: The slide changes to the following:
- Annotated bibliographies
- Compare/contrast essays
- Explicit requests
- Part of note taking
- Synthesizing or paraphrasing sources
- Literature reviews
- Graduate writing
Audio: Alright, so now that you know what a summary is and how to write a strong summary, when should you use a summary? Students most commonly summarize sources in annotated bibliographies and compare/contrast essays. However, you may also find that an assignment prompt or course instructor asks you to summarize as part of another assignment. You may also use summarizing as one of your note-taking and reading strategies; summarizing a source is a great way to ensure you understand and can re-articulate what a source is saying.
It is important to note that summarizing usually isn’t appropriate if you’re being asked to synthesize or paraphrase a source; this is particularly true in a literature review and generally in graduate writing. While summarizing particularly important sources initially or in the note taking stage may make sense in these cases, you don’t want to rely on summarizing extensively.
Visual: Slide changes to display the following: Questions? E-mail email@example.com.