Unit 3: Summarizing and Responding to Writing

13 Techniques for Identifying Main Ideas in a Summary

In order to write an effective summary, you need to be able to identify the main ideas. Below are three methods you might use when reading a text to identify the most important information.

 Technique 1: Underlining main ideas

  1. Read the article several times to get a good understanding of the information.
  2. Use a highlighting tool to identify ideas you think are important.
  3. Go back to the beginning of the article and read the highlighted ideas again. Make sure you understand what they mean.
  4. Paraphrase these highlighted ideas. Use these paraphrased ideas when you write your summary.

Technique 2: Grouping ideas

  1. Read the entire article. Pay attention to where the topic in the article seems to shift. Notice how groups of paragraphs seem to be about a similar topic.
  2. Insert a horizontal line between these different sections of the article.
  3. Divide a longer article into sections, or groups of paragraphs, to help you identify the various topics discussed in the article.
  4. Look at these large sections and write a short phrase that explains the topic of each section.
  5. The topics of these sections are usually the author’s main supporting points. This will help you determine which information is most important and should be included in the summary.
  6. Use your list of phrases you wrote to describe each section to write your summary.

Technique 3: Summary chart

  1. Read the entire article. Take notes in a grid for each paragraph or section of the article. Dividing the article into sections will allow you to summarize ideas from more than one paragraph together.
  2. Write main ideas in one column and supporting ideas in another column.
  3. Use your notes to write your summary. You might not use all the supporting ideas in your summary.
  4. NOTE: For a selective summary, summarize ONLY the information that is relevant to the topic of the assignment. Information that is not directly relevant to the topic can be omitted.

Partial example from Megan Gambino’s “How Technology Makes Us Better Social Beings”

Access Gambino’s full article

paragraph(s) main idea supporting details
1-2 Americans are more disconnected from each other now than they were 50 years ago. because of urban sprawl, women working outside of home, less free time
3-4 American’s “support system” has shrunk by one-third due to cell phone and Internet use. social networking sites are to blame
5 But new evidence seems to suggest that people are forming bonds with new friends and maintaining current friends because of social media Facebook users report they have more interactions with friends than in the past.
6-8 more main ideas… more examples and/or important details

Adapted from: Dollahite, N.E. & Huan, J. (2012). SourceWork: Academic Writing for Success.

Technique 4: Use AI to Summarize a text

Use this technique for reading and understanding texts as a study technique.

  1. Read the entire text yourself. If needed, use a translator, but always make sure you read the text in English.
  2. Try to pick out the important points by yourself. Identify the author’s thesis.
  3. Then use an AI tool to summarize the text (e.g. QuillBot Summarize, WordTuneChatGPT, etc.). Determine how long you want the summary to be (one paragraph? one page? A double-spaced page is about 250 words).
  4. Compare the summary with your own notes.

If you are asked to summarize a text for homework, you should try to write the first draft on your own. Your instructor will let you know how and if you can use AI to generate a summary to compare to your own version. Remember, an AI-generated summary might not include correct attribution and the format might not meet the assignment’s expectations (e.g. the first sentence might not include the elements outlined in the assignment).


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