13 Summarising Skills

As with paraphrasing, summarising is an everyday skill used to information so that it may be relayed to others. For example, if you have watched a two hour movie at the cinema and you want to give a of the overall plot to your friends, you may tell them in ten minutes or less what it took you two hours to watch. This is summarising in action.

In academic writing we can use summarising techniques to condense the ideas of others to support the main points of our own discussions or arguments. This chapter will help to formalize your understanding of the process and techniques used.

This chapter uses previous techniques you have learnt, such as skimming and scanning (chapter 11), annotated reading (chapter 12), paraphrasing (chapter 9), and referencing (chapter 10). Refer to these chapters when needed.

Step-by-step Instructions

  1. Skim and scan the text for the key ideas and concepts
    • look at headings, sub-headings, images and graphics, and dot-points
    • go a little deeper and read the abstract, the findings/outcomes (research), and the conclusion to better understand the aims and answers contained in the text
  2. Annotate the reading to identify the key ideas/arguments/claims/concepts
  3. Make notes from your annotated reading and begin to convert sections into your own words as you do so
  4. Identify the author/s, year, and page range needed for the in-text citation
  5. Paraphrase the main ideas from your notes and the text in your own words


  • Avoid using quotes from the original author/text. The main purposes of a summary are to reduce the text in length and to write it in your own words.
  • Do not add any additional material or your own thoughts and opinions to the summary. If you wish to interject your own points within the summary, split the summary and provide an in-text citation for each section.
  • You do not need to provide proof for the author’s ideas or claims. By eliminating supporting evidence such as data, examples and explanations, this will naturally reduce the word count.
  • How much you need to reduce the word count will largely depend on the needs of the assignment you are using it for. Summaries can range in length from only a sentence or two to several paragraphs. For a larger text, the summary should be no more than 1/5 of the original text. In your own academic writing however, you are more likely to only need a few sentences. Always ask your lecturer/tutor if you are unsure
  • Summaries, as with paraphrases, are included in the overall word count for your assessments
  • All summarised information MUST include an in-text citation to avoid plagiarism


Do not fall into the trap of analysing the text instead of summarising it. You are not critiquing the text, only its key ideas.

Watch this quick video for more information.



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Academic Writing Skills by Patricia Williamson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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