Summarizing an Essay



Helpful Hints

Assignment Requirements

Maximum Score and Due Date







In successfully completing this assignment, you will be able to:

  • Determine the key points of a work
  • Express these points in a way that is true to the original without being a copy of the wording or a listing of the facts


On pages 54-64 of Writing from Sources, there are three different essays: "Interstellar Spaceflight" (54), "Molding Our Lives in the Images of the Movies" (59), and "The Downside of the Upside of the Downside" (63). Choose one of these essays and summarize it in no less than 225 words and no more than 275 words. It is important to keep within this word limit as the summary should be a short expression of the overall intent and main ideas, not a reworded version of the essay.


Helpful Hints for Summarizing:

  • Read over every essay at least once before choosing. Then settle on one to summarize. Always make clear in the summary the author and title of the essay you are summarizing right off the bat
  • Do NOT use "I" anywhere in the summary (no "I am summarizing" etc.)
  • Identify the OVERALL purpose of the essay first. Is it telling a story? Making an argument? Expressing facts? Or something else entirely? What conclusions does the author draw, if any?
  • Identify the main ideas and points that the author uses to accomplish that purpose. For instance, how did he/she draw his conclusions if he/she made any? Note how the essay is organized. Often the author's use of paragraphing will help you to determine the emphasis he/she places on certain aspects. You need to emphasize those same points in your summary.
  • Do NOT simply put the author's words or "paraphrase" sentence by sentence. You are trying to convey his/her OVERALL meaning and express the gist of his/her argument IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Check your summary against the original and make sure you have not copied the author's wording in any way. If you feel that it is important that you use the author's wording for a phrase or two, you MUST indicate these exact words by putting them in quotation marks. You may not directly quote more than a couple short phrases, and only when absolutely necessary.
  • Do not just list the author's points.
  • Don't get bogged down in specific details. We want the big picture. That's why the word limit is so small.
  • Don't make judgments on the article in your summary. The purpose of the summary is to express the author's meaning succinctly, not to make a commentary on its worth. That comes later in your own essays!


Assignment Requirements
How well you meet these requirements determines your grade. The summary must:

  • Make clear the author and essay title
  • Make clear the overall purpose for the work
  • Make clear the main ideas and points the author uses to accomplish and convey the purpose of that work
  • Use your own words, and not the author's
  • Remain true to the author's meaning without coloring it with your own judgments
  • Weed out extra details and concentrate on what is necessary to convey the overall idea
  • Use MLA format, including a parenthetical citation at the end
  • Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. and avoid careless errors (Hint: read over summary before handing it in to take care of those!)


Maximum Score: 20 pts.

Due Date: Wednesday, January 22



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