Summary of a Secondary Source
A summary is a "squished down" version of a source. In most cases, when you summarize, you are
writing a single paragraph whose sentences each convey a major or supporting idea drawn from a much
longer piece of writing -- an article, a book, or a long passage.
One of the purposes of summary is to take long, complicated units of information and transform them
into short, easily understood reports. Naturally, good summaries are the very heart of an advanced
annotated bibliography. If you click on the Resources link in the course menu, you should see a folder
titled Sample Assignments. In this folder you will find a sample annotated bibliography. Pay special
attention to the annotations (the paragraphs following each source's publication information). Proper
annotations take the form of one paragraph and report only the most important points of the original
article, book chapter/essay, or even an entire book.
Summary as Paragraph:
A summary usually takes the form of a paragraph. Like any well-constructed paragraph, it should have
unity, coherence, and development.
Most paragraphs have one main idea, usually located in a topic sentence. The other sentences
should clarify, explain, or elaborate upon this main idea. In a summary, you look for a source
author's thesis and recast this as your most important sentence. Usually, this would be your
opening sentence and would go something like this: According to John Jones, English literature
of the eighteenth century was guided by the desire for normality. The remaining sentences
should use Jones's supporting points to explain this concept.
Coherence is the natural and sensible relationships among sentences in a paragraph. Each
sentence should precede or follow its neighboring sentence as though following out a train of
thought instead of looking like a list of notes taped together.
Good paragraphs provide sufficient explanation / clarification of a main idea to satisfy an
audience of about ten strangers. The audience of a summary has not read the original source, so
each important supporting idea should make an appearance.
Active Reading, Revision, and Citation:
Know your source before you write your summary. Use active reading skills so that you fully
understand what the source author is talking about.
supporting points.
Used with permission from Stephen Michael (Wayland Baptist University – 2014)
Rules of Summary
The following has been adapted from various research-writing texts but especially from Brenda Spatt,
Writing from Sources, 7th ed. (Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, 2007), 79.
1. A summary should be comprehensive: All the author's major ideas should be reported. These ideas do
not necessarily have to appear in their original order.
2. A summary should be concise: Only major ideas, not minor details, should be extracted from the
3. A summary should be coherent: The summary's sentences should flow as naturally as possible. What
you don't want is a series of notes taped together. Sentences should follow one another as logical
outcomes of their predecessors. Summarists often make heavy use of subordinate and coordinate
sentence patterns.
4. A summary should be independent: The reader who has not read the original should be able to make
complete sense of the summary. Do not assume that your reader has read the original.
5. A summary should be written completely in present tense.
6. The summary should be written, as much as possible, in your own words. Any use of the author's
vocabulary should be kept to a minimum and should be surrounded in quotation marks.
7. The summary should NOT include your opinions or any other extraneous matter. This is a completely
objective report of the source's primary content.
Used with permission from Stephen Michael (Wayland Baptist University – 2014)