How to Write a Summary

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Does a summary have a topic name?

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Writing a summary is a useful skill for a variety of organizational reasons. Summarizing helps with organizing the writing process, with organizing thoughts into notes and with organizing reading. As such, determining the purpose for which the summary is needed will help to decide whether or not the summary needs a topic name. Writing effective summaries with appropriate titles lays the groundwork for organizing more complex levels of academic writing.

When a brief summary is used to organize the writing process for a larger work, give the summary a topic name that corresponds with the topic of the paper and relevant research. For example, in a paper about trends in 21st century literature, it is unlikely that the paper will cover every single aspect of that topic. As such, the summary and the title of the summary should identify only the key aspects that are relevant to one specific aspect of the broad topic, say, women’s writing. As such, a title for such a summary might read: “A Summary of Two Key Trends in 21st Century Women’s Novels.”

In contrast, when a summary organizes thoughts or reading, it is probably because either the summary is meant as the end goal or it is too early in the writing process to have narrowed down a research topic sufficient for a larger piece of writing. Such a summary might be utilized as a personal reference or, perhaps, for the reference of a study group. As such, a summary should have a topic name only to the extent that it is useful for keeping thoughts or reading organized as notes. A few keywords might only be necessary as a title. Again, given the example of the topic of 21st century women’s writing, a brief title of a summary might read: “Summary of 21st Century Women’s Novels” or even just “21st C (short for century) Women’s Literary Fiction.”

Whether the summary is utilized to organize a larger paper or for taking notes, writing an effective summary and title lays the groundwork for other short pieces of academic writing, such as abstracts. In general, an abstract is a type of summary of scholarly writing, and the title of an abstract corresponds to the title of the paper. Best wishes!

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