How to Write a Critical Summary

To critically assess, you don’t negatively criticise a work as in popular films or book reviews. Instead, you engage generously with their ideas and arguments to increase the reader's understanding of it. 

The ability to summarise is a critical skill and like any other, it can be mastered with practice. You’ll need to consider both the work’s structure and content; here’s how to write a critical summary effectively.

Evaluate and Assess

A critical summary starts with evaluating the strengths and/or weaknesses of the piece. Consider elements such as content, arguments, organisation, scholarship and style. Then, take a stance and argue for or against the argument of the article.

You should aim to provide information, interpretation and evaluation. All this provided information will help your reader understand the nature of the work, making it more accessible for all. 

Focus on Your Subject

A key element of a summary is always remaining focused and centred on your subject matter. It’s essential to cut out introducing your ideas by stating "I think" or "in my opinion", keep the focus on the subject of your analysis, not on yourself. 

Other questions to consider when writing your summary include: 

  • Is there a controversy surrounding either the passage or the subject which it concerns?
  • What about the subject matter, is it of current interest?
  • What’s the overall value of the passage?
  • What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Remember, the purpose of a critical analysis isn’t to just inform, but also to evaluate the worth, utility and validity of something. You can express your opinions, but you should also back them up with evidence. 

Be Concise

Condensing lengthy documents into short, accessible summaries is an ongoing challenge with writing in the public sector. The biggest hurdle is making sure that the information understood by readers with varying levels of knowledge.  

The fewer words you have, the more challenging summarising can be. Be concise, but make sure you don’t inadvertently remove something crucial to the text or change the meaning of the original piece. You can achieve it with a technique which involves isolating the key points; the subject, predicate phrases and eliminating irrelevant words.


Paraphrasing is often used when engaging with content to place your argument in the context of other work on the subject. This also helps writers avoid overusing quotations, which can make your piece look busy and cluttered. 

When paraphrasing, you’re putting someone else’s ideas into your own language, while still crediting them with the original idea. However, if you’re paraphrasing a specific point the author has made, make sure to cite a page number - even if you aren’t quoting directly.

As a public sector writer, you’ll repeatedly hear you need to be more succinct and brief.  Writing an effective critical summary is just one area in the public sector where you need to make sure your writing skills are powerful. If you’re looking to develop your writing skills, our guide can provide expert guidance and advice. 

Create More Succinct Written Content in the Public Sector

Effective critical summaries, succinct briefs and minute taking; there’s a lot of writing forms to master. That’s why we’ve assembled all of this useful information into one accessible guide. There’s also added tips to sharpen any written content you produce.

To create more concise and compelling content in the public sector that educates your audience, click below to get your free copy.

Writing Skills Guide