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How to Summarize a Text

Updated on April 11, 2011

     So say that you know how to structure a basic essay. You know where all your information should go and in what order. Now there’s only one problem. How do you get the information from the text to your brain to the paper? Well, as always it is important to have some basic steps that will help to map out your paper. There are three steps to writing a summary essay. First, read the text. Second, organize your information. Last, write your paper. Of course there are methods you must employ as a reader or writer if you want to get the most your of your time.

Literally or Literarily?

      When reading a text, it is helpful to ask questions to further your understanding of the information being presented. But first, it is important to understand what questions to ask. Open and closed form texts (essay vs. story) each have a different set of questions that might be applied.

            When reading a closed- form essay a student is most likely reading literally, or reading with the purpose of  narrowing down the meaning of the text to one or two clear and set statements. You want to be able to quickly identify and summarize the main points of the essay as you read it. Questions for this kind of reading include, what are the genre, audience and purpose of the text? Also, questions about sentence structure, thesis and the problem posed in the text are important. Mostly, closed-form essay questions can be answered only one way, because for the most part a closed-form essay wants no ambiguity in its proposition. Although an essay can be simply informative it is usually employed as a persuasive paper and wants to argue one specific point.  

            When reading an open-form essay a student usually reads literarily, or with the intent of understanding many possible meanings for the text. Because open-form essays can include the genres of poetry, stories and nonfiction, there is a broader and more “open to debate” set of questions applicable to open-form writing. Such questions might be about character, plot and voice. Questions about the characters are almost exclusive to open-form writing. Such questions are used by authors themselves to form and understand a plot. Other questions can be hard to pin down to one set of answers. Questions like theme and points of view can be answered differently depending on where the reader is coming from, in terms of background, life experience and even reading level.

            Knowing which questions to ask for a particular story is just as important as knowing to ask questions. While each set of questions might overlap to some extent over the open/closed-form line, we must remember there is a continuity to be taken into account. The real challenge is often not answering the questions, but knowing which questions to ask and then applying them in your writing, because now that we’ve moved the main ideas of our text into our brains we need to apply it to the paper. The easiest way to do this would be to apply our knowledge to the five paragraph essay (give or take a few paragraphs depending on the actual assignment). Pick out the main thesis of the text and three supporting points. At this point it is important to remember that if you quote you must give your source. Having a Works Cited page for papers that require multiple sources is one way to make sure that you have academic integrity, otherwise of you are just summarizing a book or something similar then make sure to use quotation marks.


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i want to write an article critique

    • Lance Crowe profile image

      Lance Crowe 

      8 years ago


      One thing I've learned in life is that the right answers aren't as important as knowing the right questions to ask beause while the answers will always be different, for the most part, the questions will stay the same.


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