Often students are criticized for “summarizing too much.” This can be for a number of reasons.

One reason is that many middle school and high school programs prepare students to do little more than copy entries from an encylopedia (or Wikipedia). For instance, an assignment that requires students to write a book report just tempts many students to combine snippets from online sources, the book jacket, and their own impressions.

Summary should be used sparingly – the bulk of your writing in high school and college should be original – so simply presenting other people’s ideas isn’t enough, no matter how eloquently they are put together. Whether intentional or not, writing a lot of summary – especially if your own ideas are thin, comes off as padding to your reader (and teacher).

Summarize when you need to give a quick overview of a large text (whether an article, a book, a movie, or a song).


The 1997 film Titanic tells the story of a young, working class man and an upper class woman as they fall in love during the last hours of the fated ship (citation).

Be sure to telegraph to your reader that you ARE summarizing. In the above example, we clearly stated that the story came from a film. But summarizing research, or another thinker’s opinion on a subject, might not be as cut and dry. An easy way to make sure you are making the nature of the information clear is to name the source in the sentence. So you might start a summary by writing, “According to the novelist David Foster Wallace…”