To make a summary (basic)


Summary, Paraphrase, and Quotation
Chapter Guide


Although the papers you write will be your own—your own voice, your own thesis statements—there will be times when you will want to integrate source material to help you support your assertions. When you integrate source material into your work, use summary, paraphrase, or quotation, depending on your purpose. A summary, written in your own words, briefly restates the writer’s main points. Paraphrase, although written in your own words, is used to relate the details or the progression of an idea in your source. Quotation, used sparingly, can lend credibility to your work or capture a memorable passage. This chapter details how to write summaries, how to paraphrase, and how to integrate quoted matter into your text.


A summary is a brief restatement, in your own words, of the content of a passage. You should focus on the central idea of the passage. Summarize when you want to present the main points of a lengthy passage or when you want to condense peripheral points necessary to your discussion. A summary should be brief, complete, and objective.

How to Write Summaries

Read the passage carefully.
Identify the author’s purpose. If the thesis or main idea is stated rather than implied, underline it. Analyze the structure of the piece. Are the subtopics highlighted by subheadings? If there are no subheadings, look for clues that indicate shifts in topics, including transitional sentences and paragraph divisions. Once you identify the subtopics, write your own subheadings in the margin. Underline key words and phrases.

Write one-sentence summaries of each stage of thought.
One of the most difficult things about writing a summary is synthesizing the information. Many students write summaries that are merely shortened versions of the original passage. Using your own words to express the ideas in the passage requires a great deal of concentration, for you must truly understand what the author is saying. Writing one-sentence summaries of each stage of thought on a separate sheet of paper will help you avoid using the language of the original in your summary.

Write a one- or two-sentence summary of the entire passage.
The one- or two-sentence summary of the passage becomes the thesis. The thesis is the first sentence of the summary, and it includes the passage’s subject and the claim that the author is making about that subject.

Write the first draft of your summary.
Depending on your purpose for using the summarized passage, you can structure your summary in one of two ways:

  • Combine the thesis with your list of one-sentence summaries.
  • Combine the thesis with your list of one-sentence summaries plus significant details from the passage.

Check your summary against the original passage.

  • Check to see that your summary is accurate and complete.
  • Check to make sure that you are using your own words.
  • Check for objectivity and revise any indication of personal opinion or critique.

Revise your summary.
In revising your summary, combine sentences and insert transitions where necessary to make your summary clear and coherent. Edit for grammatical correctness.

Compare the length of the summary to the original.
Summaries, as general rule, should be no longer than one-fourth of the original passage, although they could be much shorter, depending on your purpose in summarizing the original.

Summarizing Narratives

The purpose of a narrative is to tell a story, and the point is in the telling of it. In summarizing a narrative, your strategy must be very different from the strategy you would use in summarizing an expository piece. Do not write a narrative to summarize a narrative. In summarizing a narrative, give a synopsis or overview of the story’s events and relate how these events affect the central character.

Summarizing Figures and Tables

  • Pie Charts show relative proportions or percentages.
  • Graphs relate one variable to another. They are effective in showing trends or cause-and-effect relationships.

Tables present numerical data in rows and columns for quick reference and are most effective when the writer wants to emphasize numbers, particularly when a great deal of data is being displayed.


In paraphrasing a passage, use your own words, as you do in writing summaries. Instead of restating the writer’s main points, however, follow the progression of a writer’s ideas sentence by sentence. The paraphrase, then, is usually the same length as the original, unless highly ornamented language is used in the original. Paraphrasing is used most effectively when you want to present material written in language that is abstract, archaic, or highly technical.

How to write paraphrases

  • Read the original to discern its purpose and meaning.
  • Substitute your own words for those of the source passage.

Rearrange your sentences so that they read smoothly. Reorder and restructure your sentences to improve coherence and style.


A quotation records the exact language in a source. You should use quotations sparingly, because every quotation contains the voice of the writer who composed the text. Using too many quotes obviates your voice and is a clear indication that you have not successfully synthesized your source material. Used wisely, however, quotes can add credibility and interest to your paper. Always credit your sources with an attribution in the text or in a formal citation, depending on the level of formality of your assignment.

When to quote

  • Use quotations when another writer’s language is particularly memorable and will add liveliness to your paper.
  • Use quotations when another writer’s language is so clear and economical that to make the same point in your own words would, by comparison, be ineffective.
  • Use quotation when you want the solid reputation of a source to lend authority and credibility to your own writing.

Direct and indirect quotations

  • A direct quotation is one in which you record precisely the language of another. Quotation marks are used to enclose the exact words that were said or written.
  • An indirect quotation is one in which you report what some one has said, although you do not necessarily repeat the words exactly as they were spoken or written.

Incorporating quotations into your sentences

  • Work the material into your sentence as naturally as possible, using appositives to identify the speakers or authors of the quote.
  • Quotations should never stand by themselves without an attribution.
  • Use ellipses (three spaced periods) in the point of deletion to indicate that material has been omitted from the quote. If you are deleting the end of a quoted sentence, or if you are deleting entire sentences of a paragraphs before continuing a quotation, add a period before the ellipsis.



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