How Do I Begin a Summary?

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As a condensed version of a larger work, a summary most often begins by identifying the work, author, a description of the type of work and the main thesis or central idea. Using this model, subsequent paragraphs provide proofs of the thesis in a logical sequence.

A summary should answer two key questions:

  • What is the central idea or theme of the piece?
  • How does the author achieve this theme?

Both of these points can be mentioned in the opening paragraph of the summary and then elaborated on through the remainder. Asking the five questions associated with news reporting — what? where? when? who? and why? — can help identify the issues to be discussed.

The source of the work being summarized may also be relevant and mentioned in the first sentence or two. There are several key points to keep in mind when composing a summary.

  • A summary is not a rewrite of the original work — it is a concise description of the piece.
  • Brevity is the overarching principle — not explicit detail.
  • Summaries are generally written in the present tense.
  • The summary should avoid using the same words and phrases as the original.
  • The original should be paraphrased as a rule and only quoted directly in exceptional cases.