Types of Summary

Ho'omana Nathan Horton and Paul Sims

There are two primary types of summary: Descriptive and evaluative. As with many types of writing, not all summaries will fit perfectly into one of these categories, but these descriptions can help you know where to start when writing a summary.

  • Descriptive: A descriptive summary is very much rooted in expressing facts. It focuses on the essence of the item under review, sharing the main point and any important, supporting details. The writer’s opinion is rarely found in a descriptive summary. It is a concise description of the work, which means the writer uses as a few words as possible to convey the essential elements of the item being summarized.
  • Evaluative: Just like the word “evaluative” suggests, this type of summary requires the writer to evaluate the item being summarized. This classification of summary is opinion-heavy. While a few basic facts about the piece are required, such as the author and the title and the main point of the piece, the remainder consists of the summary writer’s viewpoints of the work. The author will detail his or her perception of the work in such areas as intended audience and purpose and how well these are addressed in the work. The person evaluating the item will also look at how this item will be useful to him or her and examine where it falls short. Because the types and frequency of examination found in the evaluative summary may involve extensive explanation, it will very likely be longer than the typical descriptive summary.

4.1 When are these used?

  • Descriptive: A writer uses a descriptive summary when he or she wants to gain and express an understanding of what the author said in the original text.
  • Evaluative: A writer will choose this summary type when he or she wants to examine the original text for usefulness, validity, strength of argument, or other important elements.

4.2 Connecting audience and purpose

  • More often than not, descriptive summaries will be used with two of the three intended audiences mentioned above – current self and others. The descriptive summary will help a writer process the main and supporting ideas in the works.
  • However, an evaluative summary could address current self, future self, and others, depending on why you might be writing the summary. If you are trying to work on a project in at a given moment which requires source analysis, then an evaluative summary might be the best way to go. When considering your future self and how to write a summary, an evaluative summary written early on may help you save time when you are in the middle of finishing a project later. And, if you are making a recommendation to others as to whether they should use the source, an evaluative summary might be your best choice.
Current self Future self Others (Instructors, classmates, etc.)


As you become familiar with how to write summaries and how to think about audience, you will likely be better able to make such decisions by yourself. Note that both types of summaries will be in the summary writer’s own words as much as possible to avoid the suggestion of plagiarism, which we will discuss later in this chapter.


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Types of Summary 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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