Summary Writing Tips: 4 Mistakes That Cost Students the Final Grade

Writing a summary, whether it is a part of a larger essay or an entire assignment, is a common homework assignment in both a high school and in a college. Even though writing summaries is common, making mistakes while writing summaries is also common. Some of these common writing mistakes can lead to minor consequences, like a point off on the assignment. However, some more serious mistakes may cause you to fail the entire project. Keep increasing your education to learn about some of the most common summary writing mistakes students make and how to avoid them.

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    Accidental Plagiarism

Summarizing is mostly rephasing another author’s words. When writing about something another wrote, whether you are using direct quotations or not, you need to make sure that you cite your sources. Not doing so will count as plagiarism and will likely cause you to fail the entire assignment.

There are few ways to avoid accidental plagiarism when writing summaries. One of the easiest and safest things to do is put a citation in your essay. This would look something like this: “For a source with three or more authors, list only the first author’s last name, and replace the additional names with et al” (Russell et al.).

Another way to cite an author is to mention their name before the quote (or summarized words). This would look like this: According to Russell et al., “For a source with three or more authors, list only the first author’s last name, and replace the additional names with et al.”

Another way that works to cite authors (which may not be acceptable in all classes, but is usually fine when writing articles) is to put a link to the source next to the link. When you do this, you can use the author’s name, article title, or another related opening to the quote. This would look something like this: a Purdue OWL article says, “For a source with three or more authors, list only the first author’s last name, and replace the additional names with et al.”

  1. Too Many Quotations

When you are summarizing another author’s work, one of the main goals is to put their words into your own words. If you use up too much space on your essay using direct quotations, then your reader may as well be reading the original work. Summaries are written so that the reader needs to read fewer words to get the same basic meaning or so they can read a simplified version of the original work. By using too many quotes, you are missing the main point of writing a summary.

If you are worried that you are using too many quotes, you can instead try rephrasing the quote and putting it into your own words. However, you will still need to cite your source even if you rephrase something.

It should also be mentioned that using too many quotes in your summary is not likely to make you fail the entire assignment, but you may lose points if your assignment is too dependent on using quotations.

  1. NOT Focusing on the Main Points

When writing a summary, you are going to want to focus on the main points of whatever you are summarizing. Sometimes when writing a summary, students get distracted by focusing on small details. For example, if you are writing a summary on a book you have recently read, write about the main themes of the story, the characters and their motivations, and the setting. Unless the assignment specifically requests it, you are not likely to need to talk about the side characters, symbolism, or some of the more minor details of the piece.

Not only will focusing on the main points of the story give you a better grade, but it will also give your readers a better idea of what the story is about. If you were to focus on minor details, your readers might learn some interesting facts about the story without really understanding the plot.

  1. Personal Opinions

When you are writing a summary, you are rewriting another author’s text in your own words. However, what you aren’t doing is giving your opinion on the text. Opinions might be good if you are writing a book report, but they are not good if your assignment is to strictly write a summary–and that’s it. If you are unsure of which situation applies to you, ask your instructor.

Opinions need to be avoided when writing summaries because they change from person to person. A summary should look like anyone could have written it. However, if you add in little bits of what you thought, then it could change how the audience interprets the story based on the summary.

For example, if you wrote a summary of the song “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” it should go something like this: “A spider lived in a waterspout. When it rained, the spider left. When the sun came up, the spider went back inside the spout.” However, if you didn’t like spiders and wrote something like, “A gross spider lived in the gutter. When it rained, the disgusting this was washed into the grass. It should have stayed there. Instead, when the sun came out, it went back into the spout!” This gives a negative view of the spider and makes the story sound more cynical than something fun to sing to a baby.

All in all, when summarizing, try to put everything in your own words, but try not to be too opinionated in what you write. Make sure to cite all of your sources so you don’t lose grade points. You don’t need to quote anything in your summary if you don’t want to, but you can; if you do, don’t use too many quotes. You do want the summary to be in your own words, after all.

Stick to these tips, and you are sure to write a great custom summary without losing grade points!