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The Writer’s Reference Book


Module 21 – Summary – Hint Sheet

Summary involves restating the main ideas found in some source material. These ideas are put into your own words.

SOURCE: Clearly indicate the source for the summary. You may want to list the source in a bibliographic entry at the start:

  • Sample entry for a book:
    Clark, Kenneth. What Is a Masterpiece? London: Thames, 1979.
  • Sample entry for an article:
    Begley, Sharon. “A Healthy Dose of Laughter.” Newsweek 4 Oct.1982: 74.

    Whether your instructor asks for a full bibliographic entry or not, begin your summary by mentioning the author's name and the title of the source.

Main Idea: The first sentence of your summary should indicate the author, title, and the main idea in your own words. For very short articles, this would be enough for a summary, but generally summaries are more detailed. A general rule is that your summary should have one sentence for each paragraph of the original. Some summaries could be a bit shorter, though, or a bit longer.

Other Important Ideas: Most instructors want more than one main idea. They want you to locate other important ideas and put them in your own words. Look for the author’s “proof” that what he or she says is true.

Quotations: A detailed summary with a lot of quotations is called a paraphrase, but most instructors will accept one or two quotations in a summary. Quote only statements said so well that you couldn't hope to say them better. Quote exactly and surround the quote with quotation marks. In the text, mention the author’s name, and at the end, list the page number in parentheses to indicate where the quote appeared. An example:

Watt states that one false belief of the freshman writing student is that he or she must adapt “to the peculiar eccentricities of the instructor he has drawn in the registration lottery” (4).

Plagiarism must be carefully avoided. Make sure that quotations are clearly marked and that all other information is in your own words. Of course, you must use some of the same words as the author you are summarizing, but make sure that you don’t copy phrases or sentences from the original. If your summary sounds like you, it’s probably all right. If it sounds like someone else, it’s probably plagiarized.

Conclude your summary with a sentence that sums up the main idea.

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