Avoiding Plagiarism when Writing Summaries

Ho'omana Nathan Horton and Paul Sims

Because a summary is a restatement of someone else’s work, it can be very easy to plagiarize unintentionally. In the section below, we’ll discuss places where it can be especially easy to plagiarize unintentionally, some tips to avoid plagiarism when summarizing, and when we need to cite in a summary.

6.1 When could plagiarism occur in a summary?

Because you are summarizing what someone else has written, it can be easy to commit the plagiarism of words that we discussed in the previous chapter, especially when it comes to describing the details and specifics of an author’s argument or support for that argument. Many writers may incorrectly believe that because the reader typically knows that a summary is taken from someone else’s text, it is unnecessary to quote or cite words that are directly taken. However, just like with any other use of outside material, you must always give credit for directly copied words. In addition, the use of verbs which indicate that you are summarizing from another text will help you to keep your retelling of the author’s ideas separate from your own interpretation or evaluation of those ideas, especially in an evaluative summary. Although the previous chapter gives great detail about how to cite from outside sources, we will review how and when to do this in a summary below.

6.2 When do we need to cite in a summary?

You will recall from the previous chapter that there are two different types of citations: Full reference citations, and in-text citations, both of which are important and used when writing any type of summary. It will help to recall the reasons that we cite at all. First, to give credit to someone else for their work and second, to help our reader find the cited information. Both types of citation perform both of these functions in a summary:

  • Again, even though your reader will likely be aware that this is a summary of another text and not necessarily your original ideas, you must include a full reference citation either before or after the summary, depending on your preference or your instructor’s requirement. Some instructors prefer that the reference citation be at the top of the page before the text, and some prefer that it be on a references page at the end. Either way, the inclusion of a reference citation acknowledges that you are describing someone else’s work and gives your reader the ability to find the source easily. When you write a summary for your own research purposes, this can help you create a sort of catalogue so that you can easily go back and find the original source if you need to.
  • In-text citations are mandatory after any direct quotation from the text, or after specific details and information (e.g. numbers, dates, etc.), even if they are not directly quoted. Citing this information directly first helps to separate the author’s direct words from your description of their ideas. It also provides your reader with the ability to easily go back and find the information in the article themselves.


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Avoiding Plagiarism when Writing Summaries Copyright © 2020 by Ho'omana Nathan Horton and Paul Sims is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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