How to Write Succinct Summaries

Young woman studying in library

College instructors often ask students to summarize readings to demonstrate their understanding of the material and get writing practice. Summaries condense information into shorter pieces, expressing the ideas of an article, essay or other writing in concise form. Writing a succinct summary requires clear understanding of the material, focus on the piece's purpose and close attention to phrasing.

Prepare and Focus the Introduction

You cannot properly convey the main points in original source material unless you understand them, so study the material closely to be sure you comprehend the message and its importance. Open your summary with background information about the reading. Give the title and author of the piece you will summarize so your reader knows what work you refer to. Follow that statement with a thesis explaining the overall point of the reading. You can use one or two sentences for this background. For example, a summary might open, "Sarah Jilley's 'Dyslexia's Cousin' explains how the learning disability dysgraphia affects students and gives teacher compensation strategies."

Emphasize the Main Ideas

Outline or highlight the major concepts in the reading. If the source material has headings and subheadings, these should alert you to main ideas. Rephrase these thoughts using your own words. For instance, the original might read, "Dysgraphia is a type of learning disability that causes problems with the ability to write. It affects both the physical process of writing and the information processing ability." The summary could be: "The learning disability dysgraphia affects physiological and cognitive writing capability."

Include Appropriate Support

Develop the summary with just enough detail to explain the concept to the reader. The dysgraphia article would list all the difficulties students might encounter and give specific examples, but the article summary would condense those into a list, leaving out the details. A complete summary should include all the major points from the article, but it shouldn't incorporate your own thoughts or opinions about the information. Use language -- such as "he goes on to say" and "the article also expresses" -- to stress that the information comes from the original piece.

Use Succinct Language

After you have finished writing your summary, read through to condense your ideas into the most succinct language possible. Use active, vivid verbs rather than passive voice. For example, the passive voice in "It is expected by teachers that students will comply" should become "Teachers expect students will comply." Find wordy phrases like "due to the fact that" and "has knowledge of" and replace with more concise wording such as "because" and "knows." Replace prepositional phrases with adjectives where possible. For instance, "Many techniques for assessing a student with dysgraphia can be employed by teachers" is better as "Teachers can employ many dysgraphia assessment techniques."

Cite this Article