How do you write the perfect summary?

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The main challenge in writing “the perfect summary” lies in the natural inclination to explain and expand on the important points in an author’s text that by themselves constitute a summary.  By definition, a summary is a brief description of the contents of an article, book, monograph, etc.  That is it.  Who is the author, what is the title of the work being summarized, what was the date of publication (if relevant), what was the period during which the work was written (if known and relevant), what are the main points the author is making, and what is his or her conclusion.  If the subject material is a novel, a brief description of the content of each chapter may be warranted.  A student assigned to summarize a nonfiction, academic study will generally not need to summarize each chapter, but rather would focus on the overall theme of the study, its main points, and its conclusion(s).

The natural inclination to explain and expand upon main points raised by the author whose work is being summarized is, as noted, the pitfall to be avoided.  It is more difficult than it may seem to resist the temptation to weigh down a summary with extraneous details, but “the perfect summary” demands that such details be excluded.   This is equally true of summaries a student prepares for his or her own research papers or creative writing projects.  In research papers, a summary usually precedes all other text, including the table of contents and introductory chapter or section.  Government papers or those produced for corporate use usually label that opening description of the report’s contents the “Executive Summary,” denoting its purpose of providing a brief synopsis of the much heftier paper that follows.  The higher one ascends on the corporate ladder or in most other organizational structures, the less time one usually has to read lengthy reports.  The Executive Summary, then, has to be perfect; it has to include the thesis or theme, the main points discussed in the following text, and the conclusions and, when relevant, recommendations for future action. 

The links below provide further information on how to write a summary, including the eNotes study guide “How to Write a Summary.”  Also provided is a link to a randomly-selected report prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that is included for the purpose of displaying an example of how a paper is structured, including the placement and style used in the Executive Summary.

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readerofbooks's profile pic

readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Writing summaries takes experience. In other words, to know what is important and what is not is not easy. Here are three steps that will help. 

First, follow the headings of your text books. This might sound like a simple point, but text books are divided in hierarchies. In other words, there is order. Therefore, following the author's headings will help tremendously in taking summaries. A good first step is to write down every major section on a sheet of paper. Immediately you have a structure. 

Second, jot down a few quotes from each section that are particularly well written. These quotes will help you recall the context. In fact, one of the strategies of writing summaries is jotting down a few quotes from each section. 

Third, look for your author's conclusion. Apart from dispensing information, the author will have a larger point he or she is trying to make. As you read, try to discern this point and put it in your summary. 

Finally, I should add, rereading is often also required. 

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silveress | eNotes Newbie

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Writing summaries is one of the things that we are being taught in middle school but as you take your self onto a higher level a few duties add up to your grammar and literary texts that you never want to miss. So here are a few steps that your should follow while writing a summary.

1. Read a text and jot down notes on every new point that you find. Make sure that the things you are missing should be covered by the one's you've mentioned.

2. When you're through with writing every point from the text, pick the one's that you feel are important. Leave out the ones that do not comprehend the importance of the text.

3. Make sure you take out the important quotations as well. Sometimes it explains the text as well. e.g in South- Asian novels, words of languages other than English are used. It's ok if you add them in your summary. But make sure that you don't use long quotations as you're writing a summary not a text itself again.

4. Once you collect all of the points (as mentioned above) arrange everything in order. Remember summary is more attractive if a small piece of your writing covers every important point that the author has made.

Hope it helps. Good Luck! :)

thewanderlust878's profile pic

thewanderlust878 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 3) Salutatorian

Posted on

Writing the perfect summary can be tricky and require more work than you think. A summary should be short and to the point, but without giving away too many details. The exact definition for summary is: 

a comprehensive and usually brief abstract, recapitulation, or compendium of previously stated facts or statements.

Basically, a summary requires a thesis (what are you trying to convey to the reader?), present tense wording (it should be full of action that is happening now, not in the past), and a few details. Leave the reader wanting to read the whole thing. eNotes has a great guide to writing a summary that I will post down below. I definitely suggest checking it out. 

Hope this helps!

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ssandhu05's profile pic

ssandhu05 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

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To write a summary that is engaging to your audience, you first start off with your topic sentence. This consists of the title and author of the work that you wish to summarize. Then you describe the main points that one takes out from the work, the main plot points or events. This doesn't necessarily have to be three main points, unless your teacher says otherwise. Do not list the main points and do not put in quotes either, unless otherwise told. Then you would add your concluding sentence, which can either tell how the story ends, what the message or theme of the work is, or it can be a sentence that is similar to a cliffhanger. Leaving the reader wanting to know happens.

Summaries should be short and simple.

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