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How to Summarize an Essay: Proven Strategies and Tips

Updated on March 22, 2024StudentsWriting Tips

Learning how to summarize an essay is an important skill to develop during your academic career. As a student, you will likely be assigned many essays to read, and as part of these assignments, you’ll likely have to write responses to them and/or discuss them with your classmates. In order to do that, you’ll have to be able to restate briefly what the essay says.

Beyond summarizing essays for assignments, developing this skill will also enhance your ability to think critically, review efficiently, and read with a discerning eye.

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What is essay summarization?

Essay summarization is the process of distilling the main points, arguments, and essential information from an essay into a concise overview. An essay summary is short, just a paragraph or two, and discusses the essay’s key details and themes.

Summarizing an essay is not the same as writing or reviewing an essay. In a review, you incorporate your personal insights, opinions, and critiques. A summary, on the other hand, is a completely objective piece of writing that only includes information that can be found in the source material.

If you’ve ever been asked to write an abstract about an essay, you’re already familiar with writing an essay summary. That’s because an abstract is a summary of a piece of academic writing, such as an essay or research paper. It states the essay’s main argument, supporting evidence, and conclusions.

Preparing to summarize an essay

A strong summary effectively communicates the original essay’s thesis statement and supporting arguments. To write a strong summary, read the essay carefully and take notes on:

  • Its main argument and the evidence used to support it
  • Any additional arguments in the essay
  • The type of essay it is (analytical, expository, personal, etc.)
  • The essay’s structure
  • References made in the essay, if any

Out of all of these points, identifying and discussing the essay’s thesis statement is the most important. If you’re not sure of the essay’s thesis statement, reread its introductory paragraph and determine the main point its author is making. It can be helpful to ask yourself, “What is this essay about?” The answer can help you decode the thesis statement.

Reading strategies for effective summarization

As you read the essay critically, take detailed notes. Although you can glean the essay’s structure from skimming it, you shouldn’t only skim the text. To fully understand it, you need to read the essay closely, ideally without distractions.

Highlight key information and include it in your notes. By isolating key information like the thesis statement, cited references, and supporting arguments, you’re setting yourself up to write a strong outline for your summary.

Steps to summarize an essay

To effectively summarize an essay, follow these steps:

1 Read the essay: Fully read the essay to understand its main argument and structure. As you do this, identify the essay’s thesis statement and main arguments, which will be featured in your summary.

2 Identify main points: Pinpoint the key points and arguments within the essay.

3 Take notes: Write down the major points and any crucial supporting evidence.

4 Draft your summary: Start with the essay’s main argument, then concisely outline the primary points in your own words.

5 Review for accuracy: Compare your summary to the original to ensure you’ve accurately captured the essential ideas.

6 Cite the original essay: If applicable, properly cite the original work to acknowledge your source. This is important for avoiding plagiarism. Citations also allow readers of your summary to locate the original essay for further reading or verification of the details. Depending on the citation style you’re required to use (such as APA, MLA, Chicago), the format of your citation will vary. Make sure to follow the specific guidelines of the citation style you’re using to ensure accuracy and consistency. Grammarly’s citation generator makes this easy.

7 Proofread: Proofread your summary for clarity, grammar, and spelling errors. Grammarly’s free AI-powered grammar checker can pinpoint grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and punctuation inaccuracies in seconds. Additionally, reading your summary aloud can help you catch errors or awkward phrasing that you might miss when reading silently.

Dos and don’ts of essay summarization

When you’re writing an essay summary, stick to the following best practices:

  • Be objective. No matter what kind of essay you’re summarizing, the correct tone is a neutral, academic one.
  • Cite your sources. With an academic essay, it’s likely you’ll mention academic sources in your summary. Be sure to cite them to avoid unintentional plagiarism. Additionally, you can use Grammarly to acknowledge your use of AI if you’ve used a tool like Grammarly’s free summary generator.
  • Keep it short. A summary should only cover the original essay’s highlights. You can omit details that aren’t directly relevant to the thesis statement.

Additionally, avoid the following:

  • Including your opinions or interpretations. A summary is a straightforward, informational piece of writing.
  • Misinterpreting the essay’s argument. Every essay, even those that are not argumentative essays, has a specific argument or position—also known as the thesis statement. Read the essay thoroughly and carefully, checking that the supporting arguments align with the thesis statement, to ensure you understand it. You don’t need to agree with it to summarize the essay—you just need to understand it.

The importance of critical thinking in summarization

With essays, more critical thinking is necessary on the summarizer’s part than with other types of writing, like stories. This is because your summary needs to represent the original essay accurately. That means you can’t merely regurgitate what you’ve read—you must also clearly express its intent and goals. As you read and take notes, answer the following questions:

  • What is the author communicating through their essay?
  • How do they support this position?
  • Why might they feel this position is correct and important?

Example of an essay summary

What is the human experience? In her essay “This Is the Life,” Annie Dillard explores this question and themes of cultural relativism as she introduces a wide range of scenarios, asking the reader to contemplate them. Throughout the essay, Dillard asks questions surrounding these scenarios, simultaneously suggesting that some knowledge is inherent to humanity, like the knowledge that bees sting. Tying these experiences together, Dillard states the actions all humans perform, noting that “most humans who were ever alive lived inside a single culture that had not changed for hundreds of thousands of years.” (Dillard).

(Summarized from This Is the Life: Annie Dillard Asks, Then What?)

Tools and resources for summarizing essays

Grammarly’s AI-powered summary generator can help you write all kinds of summaries, including essay summaries, in just a few clicks. Use it to draft concise, well-formatted summaries efficiently. After drafting, use Grammarly to cite the original source of your summary to prevent plagiarism. This step is crucial for maintaining academic integrity and giving credit where it’s due.

Essay summarization FAQs

What is essay summarization?

Essay summarization is the process of condensing an essay’s main points and ideas into a shorter, clearer form without losing the original meaning.

What’s the difference between summarizing and paraphrasing an essay?

Summarizing involves creating a concise overview of an essay, focusing only on its main points, without inserting personal views. Paraphrasing, on the other hand, entails rewriting the essay in your own words, covering all its points but in a more condensed form than the original.

How do I avoid plagiarism when summarizing an essay?

Avoid plagiarism when summarizing an essay by writing the summary in your own words. When you absolutely need to borrow text from either the original story or another summary, make sure to cite the source. Grammarly offers generative AI features to enable responsible AI use throughout the entire writing process. Grammarly also makes it easy for you to acknowledge your use of AI.

How can I make my essay summary stand out?

Make your essay summary stand out by accurately summarizing the original’s thesis statement and supporting arguments in an engaging way. Be clear and get straight to the point. Start with a strong sentence that shows what the essay is about, stick to the main ideas, and refrain from including your opinion.

How can I use AI to summarize essays?

AI tools like Grammarly’s summary generator make it easy to quickly pinpoint the main ideas of an essay and distill them into a concise, well-formatted summary. Then you can use Grammarly to refine your summary further, ensuring it’s mistake-free and effectiv

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