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When you want to refer to the general ideas of a longer text, speech, or other creative work, without going into all the details, you can use a summary.

What is a summary?

A summary is an overview that contains the main points of a work. Summaries are much shorter than the works themselves, but still need to contain the author’s original ideas and the degree of certainty with which those ideas are expressed.

Remember that a summary does not need to contain every idea in the original work. You can focus on the ideas that are relevant to your argument, as long as you don’t leave out an important aspect of the author’s position that might mislead your audience.

As always, when you are referring to the ideas of others, you’ll need to include a reference any time you summarise another work.

How to write a summary

To create a good summary of a text, you should identify:

  • its main ideas and intentions
  • relevant details
  • the tone used to express the ideas.

Use the following steps to write a summary:

  1. Locate the topic and main idea of the work, and identify its purpose. Select the information that is relevant to the argument you are presenting in your own work, and take short notes using dot points or a mind map.
  2. Write the summary directly from your notes. Make sure to use complete sentences.
  3. Refer back to the original text to ensure your summary reflects its main ideas.


Original sample text

Time management is a critical skill for students to develop. Weekly and semester timetables are an excellent way to plan a study program. Students can use them to manage their most important study, work and social commitments and to set themselves study goals. Blocks of time can then be set aside for study, reading, researching and writing. The most urgent tasks can be addressed, whilst work continues on preparing for lectures, tutorials and assignments. If time has been allocated for specific purposes, it is easier to avoid unexpected demands like phone calls, visitors and invitations. Assignments can be completed and submitted on time and to a satisfactory standard.


Effective time management allows students to utilise their time in order to successfully complete their study requirements (Author 2003).

Practice summarising

Read the fictional text below, and then choose the best summary from the three options given.

Please note: The examples on this page use the RMIT Harvard referencing style. Check your course handbook or speak to your instructor about the referencing style required in your area of study.