The Summary & The Paraphrase


A summary of a scholarly non-fiction article or book is a brief, complete and objective retelling.  It is shorter and possibly simpler than the original.  It does not skip any ideas, but focuses on main arguments, and condenses sub-points.  It may include telling details or stories. It does not add the writer's ideas and feelings; it only reflects the original author’s attitude toward the subject (tone). As a side note, it is unlikely that anyone would need to summarize a 2-3 page paper.  Only scholarly articles 5-6 pages and more might be summarized. 


If summarizing a fictional story or personal narrative, the writer must include the "5 Ws:" who what where why when. In other words, the writer must discuss the characters and the plot of the narrative.


When a writer summarizes a graph or chart, he or she must include four things:  1) the categories covered by the graph or chart; 2) the highest and lowest numbers on the graph or chart; 3) the general trends reflected by the graph or chart; and 4) the context in which the graph or chart was developed -- that is, for whom was the information gathered, and from whom did the information come?


When writing a paraphrase, the writer uses approximately the same number of sentences, but select simpler words or simpler sentence structures.  The writer adjusts and interprets the original document for the new audience. Probably the most any writer will (or should) paraphrase is 2-3 paragraphs. There should be the same number of sentences in a paraphrase as there were in the original.


Summary Checklist:


1. Is the title of the article you are reviewing placed in quotations? Are the title and author mentioned in the first or second sentence of your summary?  Have you explained to your reader why he or she should care about the article's topic?

2. Have you offered a 2-3 sentence explanation of the main point of the article? 

3. Have you summarized the article you are reviewing briefly, objectively and completely?  Have you mentioned main points and sub-points?

4. Do you include telling (significant) and memorable examples and quotes?