Summarising authors

Key words: summary, sum-up, condense, precis, main points, outline

A summary is a brief account of the main ideas of an information source (or sources) that you write in your own words. It is a highly acceptable way to include the ideas of others in your writing. All summaries from information sources must be acknowledged in your writing with an in-text reference and in the reference list.

Please note that the APA referencing style is used in this workshop.

About summarising in your writing 

Many assignments are accompanied by a compulsory and/or suggested reading list. No doubt you have often wondered how your 2000 or so word assignment could possibly incorporate all those resources that are meant to inform your writing. Summaries of material may be used to give an overview of the work of one or more authors. Because they are very brief outlines of arguments made, they are very useful when you want to indicate the support given for and/or against some position you are taking in your argument.

In your writing you may make a summary from:

  • one or more paragraphs
  • an entire article, chapter or complete work
  • a combination of readings with similar ideas

You can get an idea from your reading as to whether an author has used a direct quote, paraphrase or summary to support their argument.

Exercise 1: Identify summaries in academic writing

Click on ‘Start analysis’ to see how summarising works in your academic paragraphs.

For ALL summaries:
  • Keep the meaning and degree of certainty the same as the original writing
  • Put the main idea and key points into your own words
  • Expect that length of your summary will be very short compared to the original writing
  • Blend with the sentence (use reporting words)
  • Use strong/weak author to acknowledge the source
  • Reference the source/s of information

Steps for summarising 

The techniques for successful summarising may be picked up quickly if you know a few strategies. You can use a step-by-step approach. The order of each step is fairly intuitive. Try to put these six steps in correct order in this exercise.

Exercise 2: Steps for summarising

Put these six steps for summarising into the correct order by dragging them across to the appropriate number.

Assessing your summary

It is critical that you assess every summary you write. Following are guidelines to help you to practise doing this activity accurately, so that you will avoid plagiarism problems.

Exercise 3: Write and assess your summary

Read and then answer questions.

Original text direct quote from Gordon & Taylor (1989, p. 3)

For most people, writing is an extremely difficult task if they are trying to grapple in their language with new ideas and new ways of looking at them. Sitting down to write can be an agonising experience, which doesn’t necessarily get easier with the passage of time and the accumulation of experience. For this reason you need to reflect upon and analyse your own reactions to the task of writing. That is to say, the task will become more manageable if you learn how to cope with your own particular ways avoiding putting off the moment when you must put pen to paper (Gordon & Taylor, 1989). (103 words)

Use the scratch pad to write one or two SHORT sentences (LESS than 30 words) to summarise the key ideas (in bold) identified in the paragraph.


Check your summary…

  1. Is the meaning of the original writing maintained?
  2. Does the summary keep the degree of certainty of the writer?
  3. Is this a much shorter version of the original writing?
  4. Is the source of the summary referenced?
Click for a possible answer
Summary of key ideas:

Most people feel a great deal of anguish when faced with writing tasks, even experienced writers. This response can be managed by recognising and coping with personal avoidance strategies (Gordon & Taylor, 1989). (29 words)

  1. Is the meaning of the original writing maintained? YES
  2. Does the summary keep the degree of certainty of the writer? YES
  3. Is this a much shorter version of the original writing? YES
  4. Is the source of the summary referenced? YES

Don’t do this! 

  • Don’t sacrifice CLARITY (clear writing) by clogging your writing up with too many details. You need to get to the essence of what the writer has to say in as few words as possible.
  • Don’t do a one-off summary. You need to have several tries at a good summary. Keep checking against the original to ensure that you have maintained the message and captured the surety of the writer (how committed the writer is to their opinion).
More information:
ASO factsheet: Paraphrasing and summarising