Writing a Critical Summary

What is a Critical Summary?

Critical summaries condense and assess the content of a book or article. It is not just your opinion, but a complete assessment of the work as a whole. To critically assess, you do not negatively criticize a work as in popular film or book reviews. Instead, you engage generously with their ideas and arguments. You will need to consider both the work’s structure and content.


Paraphrasing is often used when engaging with academic content to place your argument in the context of other work on the subject and enter your ideas into the academic discussion. This also helps writers avoid overusing quotations, which can clutter up your work.

When paraphrasing, put someone else’s ideas into your own language, while still crediting them with the original idea. For instance, you might say Cynthia Sugars argues the significance of the continued presence of the gothic in Canadian historical texts instead of quoting Sugars directly making this claim. If you are paraphrasing a specific point the author has made, make sure to cite a page number, even if you aren’t quoting directly.

Writing a Critical Summary

Your summary should include the thesis of the article, as well as mention of the structure and supportive content of the argument. In a summary you typically avoid direct quotations—paraphrase instead.

Evaluate the strengths and/or weaknesses of the piece, considering elements such as content, arguments, organization, scholarship, and style. Take a position, arguing for or against the argument of the article.

Be concise, but make sure you don’t inadvertently remove something essential or distort the meaning of the original paper.

  1. Read the article, noting the thesis, key issues surrounding it, and what is used to support the argument. Write brief summary notes of key sections in the margins as you go.
  2. Are the arguments structured effectively? Ways of structuring an article include ordering points chronologically, by topic, by character, or by theoretical approach. Points can also be structured from strongest to weakest or reverse.
  3. Are the paragraphs abstract, specific, or a mix?
  4. Has the writer used evidence to support her work? Has she explained the quotations as evidence well?
  5. How well has the writer cited other scholarship in the area?
  6. Does the book or article contribute to the scholarship? Why or why not?
  7. Does the author end with questions and directions for future scholarship? If so, is this effective?