If you would prefer to skip the text and watch these summary guidelines in video format, see the How to Write a Summary Video by scrolling down to the bottom of this post.
Some key points about summary writing are as follows:
- Whether it is a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, or an entire manuscript that you want to summarize, give only the most important ideas of the passage or passages—leave out all the details or ideas that are not crucial to what the author is saying.
- Try your very best not to project your own interpretation (i.e., give the most important ideas as made explicit by the author).
- The summary should be as short as possible, to the point, and in your own words.
Let’s look at summarizing a short passage of about a paragraph in length. Here’s the opening of a famous children’s book:
How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT! The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all, may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
What is the key information to take note of here? I would say the following:
- The title: As this is the introduction of the book, and we see the title written above the paragraph, we may regard the title as crucial piece of information.
- The idea that every Who liked Christmas a lot, while the Grinch hated Christmas.
- No one knows exactly why the Grinch hated Christmas.
- A strong hypotheses, according to the author, is that his heart was two sizes too small.
- We might also note that the Whos lived in Who-ville while the Grinch lived just to the north of Who-ville. This seems important in that it sets the scene for the action.
So, based on the key ideas noted, here’s an APA-formatted summary of the passage:
How The Grinch Stole Christmas opens by recounting how the Whos of Who-ville were very fond of Christmas, while the Grinch, living just to the north, hated it. Reasons for the Grinch’s hatred were inconclusive, but the author posits it might have been “his heart was two sizes too small” (Seuss, 1957, pp. 1-2).
- Note that the passage is shorter than the original, containing only the important ideas.
- And notice too, incidentally, that the title of the book is italicized in title case (meaning you capitalize the first letter of each word), which is the way to mention a book in APA.
- You can directly quote short key or poetic phrases, or particularly unique turns of phrase (which we see at the end of the summary).
- And an APA in-text citation has to include the last name of the autor, the year, and the page number or span of pages (in this case, pages 1 through 2).
Now let’s try another one. Here’s the text we find on the next two pages of The Grinch:
The Grinch, Pages 3-4
But Whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, he stood there on Christmas Eve hating the Whos. Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown, at the warm lighted windows below in their town. For he knew every Who down in Who-ville beneath was busy now hanging a mistletoe wreath. “And they’re hanging their stockings!” he snarled with a sneer, “tomorrow is Christmas! It’s practically here!” Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!”
Taken in conjunction with the first paragraph, there’s three main ideas here:
- For whatever reason, the Grinch not only hated Christmas, but also hated the Whos,
- the Grinch looked contemptuously down on the Whos as they prepared for Christmas,
- and the Grinch resolved to stop Christmas from coming.
Summary of The Grinch, Pages 3-4
No one knows why, but the Grinch hated the Whos. He scornfully watched their Christmas Eve festivities, vowing to somehow bring a halt to the arrival of their cherished Christmas day (Seuss, 1957, pp. 3-4).
You would format the complete reference for the Grinch as follows:
APA Reference List Entry
Seuss, D. (1957). How the Grinch stole Christmas. New York, NY: Random House.
MLA Works Cited Entry
Seuss, Dr. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Random House, 1957.
Chicago Bibliographic Entry
Seuss, Dr. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. New York: Random House, 1957.