In your coursework, you may be asked to write a summary of an essay, book, film, video, or presentation. A summary is generally short, written objectively and in present tense.

What is a summary?

A summary is a short objective overview of the main ideas of a larger work. It includes only the broader points or purpose of a work rather than the details or smaller plot points. You can think of a summary as how you might boil down the main points of a book or film to describe it to other people.

Often, a summary is a paragraph in length, but it can span several paragraphs for longer works. Always follow the guidelines of the assignment or project, including citing the original source.

What should you include in a summary?

  • Include an opening line listing the author’s name, title of the work, and a broad overview of the work, such as the genre or overall idea of the work.
  • A summary should include all of the main points or ideas in the work but avoid smaller details or ideas. You don’t want to provide every aspect of the plot or smaller points in your summary.
  • Your summary should be written using your own words.
  • Present the main ideas objectively, avoiding your own opinion and thoughts about the work.
  • Avoid including direct quotes from the work within your summary. Rather, present the main points in your own words.
  • Close your summary by restating an overview of the work in one sentence.

Sample summary paragraph: In the article “Why Promoting a Reading Culture Could Promote Wellbeing,” Natalie Clarkson discusses how a workplace that encourages reading leads to greater satisfaction and higher productivity. Reading a book helps employees lower stress levels by allowing the reader to escape into imagination. The satisfaction that a reading culture offers also translates to less stress in the workplace, which maintains high levels of productivity. When employees are happier, they are more likely to stay with an organization and work more effectively as part of a team. All of these benefits make a workplace reading culture a positive influence on employee wellbeing (Clarkson, 2015). Notes about example: 1. The opening line introduces the genre, title, author, and an overview of the article. 2. The summary uses an objective tone without opinion. 3. The author ends the summary with a closing line. 4. The closing line restates the main points of the article, avoiding smaller details.