Paraphrasing and summarising are occasionally confused.  In everyday life we summarise without realising; for example, when telling a friend about a book we have read or a film we have seen, we describe the most important or interesting parts.  In academic writing, the summarising skill condenses the main points.  Summarising should not change the original author's meaning.

What students should know to improve their summarising ability:

  • Writing a summary is writing a shortened version of a person's work while maintaining the main information.
  • If the text is a published article, it helps to read the abstract first as this is already a summary of the purpose, scope, methodology, results, recommendations and conclusions of the article's research.
  • If the text is a chapter in a book, it helps to read the introduction and conclusion first.
  • If the text is part of a complete piece of writing, just a paragraph for example, it helps to find the topic sentence and concluding sentence first.
  • The whole text can then be read through once to follow the main ideas. It will help if you read it again, underlining or highlighting all the important information.
  • Once you understand the text completely you will be able to start your summary.
  • In summarising, you should not copy sentences word by word from the original text. Your summary is a condensed version of what you have read.
  • It will help to read the main points again before putting the text where you cannot see it and then summarising the main points as you understand them.  You are using your own words, not copying from the original.

Read the following paragraph reproduced from a student's essay:

The organization of the family has important consequences for women’s and men’s lives both within and outside the family, and throughout the world. According to Wharton (2006), families tend to form the basis of marriage. Marriage is defined by Morgan, cited by Abbot et al.(2005), as a social institution that provides both partners with important social and financial resources.  It is often assumed that marriage as a binding relationship between a man and woman is universal (Wharton, 2006). However, the institution of marriage is different in different parts of the world, and this needs to be considered. According to Hajnal (1965), there is a wide contrast regarding marriage and family decisions through a line separating Northern and Western Europe from Southern and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, it is estimated that only ten per cent of all marriages in the world are actually monogamous; polygyny and polyandry are common in many societies (Abbot et al., 2005).

The yellow highlights the main points and the following sentence is a summary:

Although the family may generally be understood as the basis of marriage, the institution of marriage is not universally similar, since monogamy, as an example, is not exclusive worldwide.