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How to write a summary chapter

Summaries are an integral part of writing both in the academic world and beyond. You may be required to summarize passages, essays, theses, and other academic writings. But what exactly is a summary?


A summary is a brief account of the key points of a longer piece of writing or speech such as an essay, thesis, web article, radio news, movies, etc. A good summary should be able to condense all the important information of the writing or speech such that any reader going through it will have enough insight into the message conveyed by the whole writing or speech. Most commonly, there is usually a specific chapter at the end of your paper whereby you can summarize and conclude the main points of your study.

Below are some tips that can help you craft a suitable summary for your paper (or thesis).

Refresh your memory

Because of the shortcomings of human memory, it is necessary to go back to the beginning of your study and start reading it again till the last chapter. This will help to refresh your memory about the document you intend to summarize in addition to deepening your understanding of the topic. Reading through the text will also help you identify things like grammar and typing errors which you can take note of prior to editing your work. It will also enable you to track ideological contradictions and other logical inconsistencies which you did not notice during the often strenuous effort of constructing a research paper.

Determine what to include in the summary

Since a summary is not meant to be very lengthy, you have to endeavor to try and ensure it is as concise as possible. As you refresh your memory by reading the entire paper, be sure to jot down what you consider as the most important points you want to include in the summary.  One way to achieve this may be to take down the main ideas from each chapter and then aggregate all the ideas afterward. If you find that you have aggregated so many points for a summary, you may still have to prune them down since a summary is meant to be short. It is very vital that your summary captures aspects of the methodology which you used to collect and measure data as well as the salient findings of your study. These should probably be the most important constituents of your summary chapter [in some summaries, the findings are the only constituents].

A summary is not sometimes a conclusion

While both summary and conclusion are similar and appear at the end of the thesis, it is important to know that, for a thesis, both are not exactly the same even though a conclusion may be seen as a kind of summary. A summary may dwell on the key points of the study just like the conclusion but, unlike the conclusion, a summary does not include areas like the practical or real-world implications of the findings nor does it include the study’s limitations. Hence, a summary can be said to be narrower in scope than a conclusion.

Organize your summary

Even though a summary should consist of a few paragraphs, it still has to be presented in an organized way. Remember that your work is not just judged based on the veracity of your statements but also in the manner in which you communicate the procedures for and results of the research. At the post-graduate level, a student is expected to possess fairly advanced analytical skills that should be reflected in academic papers such as theses. Therefore, having articulated the key points you want to include in your summary, you should also take time to organize them as cleverly as possible for maximum effect.

Keep it short

As suggested in the definition above, a summary is meant to be a short highlight of the major points of a piece of writing. There is no need for very elaborate discussion and analysis since those will already be available in other chapters. Hence, you should resist the temptation of extending your summary beyond the acceptable limit. However, what constitutes an acceptable limit may vary according to institution, research area, faculty, and/or department. Therefore, it might be useful to consult others in your field on the ideal length of your summary. Take care to report what you have already presented in the body of your writing rather than introduce any new points or ideas at this late stage.

Evaluate the impact

After you must have crafted your summary, it may not be a bad idea to subject it to external evaluation to see if it is representative enough of the document which it is summarizing. This evaluation can only be made possible by somebody that is familiar with all the chapters of your work [that is, the theoretical and empirical underpinnings of your study]. For instance, a colleague who has followed you throughout all the stages of your writing and/or your supervisor who has guided you through each of the chapters. While the views of your colleague are largely unofficial and advisory, that of your supervisor should be taken seriously in terms of modifying and even scrapping the entire summary if needed.


A summary is an abridged explanation of the important aspects of writing or speech. It is a common feature of academic writing. In the context of thesis writing, a summary is similar to a conclusion but the latter is usually broader in scope. Since a summary should not be too long, the student should avoid unnecessary repetition of information or ideas that are already in other chapters of the thesis. He or she should also not include new ideas in the summary chapter. 

Other resources

This post was produced as part of a research guide series by Avidnote which is a free web-based app that helps you to write and organize your academic writing online. Click here to find out more.

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