How to Write a Great Summary

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From GrammarlyBlog:

A summary is a shorter description of a longer work, covering all of the highlights but not many of the details. It’s used for an overview so that people can get an idea of what the longer work entails without reading or watching it first.

You see summaries everywhere, from book covers to product descriptions to online review sites. However, no matter how many summaries you’ve read, it can still be difficult to write your own when you need to.

. . . .

What is a summary?

Really, a summary is a general term used to describe any writing that briefly explains, or “summarizes,” a larger work like a novel, academic paper, movie, or TV show. Summaries are usually short, from one or two sentences to a paragraph, but if you’re summarizing an enormous work, like all seven Harry Potter books, they can stretch out over pages. 

Summary writing is like a highlight reel, showing only the best parts and ignoring what’s not strictly necessary. A summary example of Hamlet would mention the main plot points like the murder of Polonius, but wouldn’t mention details irrelevant to the plot, like Polonius’s “to thine own self be true” monologue. 

The key to summary writing is to stick to the facts; do not include opinions, analysis, or bias. If it’s written for commercial purposes, such as the summaries on Netflix, it might be intentionally alluring and withhold spoilers. However, for academic papers and more formal writing, summary writing leans towards factual and clinical. 

Summaries appear in many different shapes and forms, including book reports and other school papers. Academics use summaries all the time for research papers when they write an abstract, which is essentially a summary of an entire research paper. 

Really, everyone needs to know how to write a summary at one point or another. Even finding a job requires you to summarize your own professional background and work experience. Learning how to write a good LinkedIn summary can help you land your dream job!

Summary examples: What makes a good summary

Let’s look at some summary examples of famous works to see what constitutes a strong summary. 

On IMDb, the summary for the 2008 movie The Dark Knight is just a sentence long: 

When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, Batman must accept one of the greatest psychological and physical tests of his ability to fight injustice.

Right away, you’ll notice that the specific events of the movie are omitted and replaced by a general explanation of what happens. The main characters are mentioned—at least the protagonist and antagonist—and there is some description given about the types of events, such as “psychological and physical tests.” 

However, the details are absent. To summarize a two-hour movie in a single sentence requires broad strokes; there’s only room for the bare essentials. 

Most summaries, though, are longer than a sentence, like this multi-paragraph summary example for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird from SparkNotes

As you can see, this summary is about the length of a page. It’s far more detailed, too, mentioning secondary characters and adding more context to the plot events. Still, to condense 281 pages into one requires a lot of cutting, so each key event is given just a sentence or two, consisting of only the need-to-know information. 

How to write a summary in 4 steps

Summary writing uses the same best tips for all good writing. If you want to know how to write a summary yourself, we break the process down into 4 basic steps. 

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 3. Write the summary in your own words

Next, write the first draft of your summary following the lists you made in the previous outlining stage. If you’re summarizing a book, film, or other media, it’s best to use chronological order (even if the story is told out of order). 

The key here is using your own words. While you’re free to copy the occasional direct quote in your summary writing, it’s best to use original language to make it your own. Also, keep in mind the perspective of someone who’s never read or seen the source material. Do you have all the relevant points they need to understand what’s going on? 

Link to the rest at GrammarlyBlog

Although PG has created a zillion written and spoken summaries for a wide variety of audiences and situations – Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury or In short, for example – he has never consciously focused on how to create a good summary other than with some little-used portion of his reptile brain.

In the future, he’s going to see if he can bump summaries up to a somewhat more evolved part of his mind.

11 thoughts on “How to Write a Great Summary”

  1. Most of the piece is obvious, but one point stands out for me: “[K]eep in mind the perspective of someone who’s never read or seen the source material. Do you have all the relevant points they need to understand what’s going on?”

    This applies to more than just summaries; I frequently see this lack in software documentation.

    Put yourself in the place of the uninformed user. A good way to do that is to put aside your writing for a week and start to forget what’s in it. Reread it with forgetful eyes; look for gaps.

  2. I just put this on social media yesterday. Sometimes, a good summary focuses on two or three keywords.

    Best 5 books I’ve read recently. What are yours?

    Grit – Angela Duckworth
    Some talent mixed with grit can work magic.

    Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins
    Motivation on steroids.

    Blackout – Candace Owens
    One truth bomb after another.

    Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance
    Overcoming poverty to the Ivy League.

    Code Name Lise – Larry Loftis
    She earned her status as a WWII spy hero.

  3. To have knowledge of law is lacking in two small towns in Ga, Cherokee and Pickens Counties of Ga. These self pleasing, and hurtful individuals rather lie for people who are dishonest, and beat pregnant woman. Not one law have these people followed in 34 years, what they have done to good individual to destroy her life not based on facts or laws; just selfish users. All my injuries witnessed, but they arrested the innocent victim then drag on the false charges for self pleasing for abusers, and their criminal activities witnessed by eight people all together. Guess who lives on the street me the one beaten, and given brain injuries; their ignorance you can not put a brain injury person on trial. They broke 5 laws on the illegal removal from my home. If you do not know the laws do not hurt others to protect want to be’s in life. I do not walk so not allowed to see my grandchildren but the drunks can. In hours I give every name of the false charges, they practice anything by noon tomorrow 7/18/2021–1:00pm. TONYA MOSS

  4. To know that when one brings false charges in retaliation, they State and Federal charges stem from their actions. In Pickens County Ga lawsuits were filed, these were hand delivered, and each opened. Filed 10/6/2020-time 9:01am-8 pages received-Job 898, 10/6/2020-time 11:10:54pm-8 pages received-job 902, 10/6/2020-time 10:33:03pm-pages received-job 901, 10/21/2020-6:33:05pm-pages received-job 936, 12/27/2020-12:28:08pm-pages received-job 1036, on the 11th day of April 2021 by 1:00am to PICKENS COUNTY GA a Writ of Habeas Corpus the payments were due in the fraud amount on a tax payer from 1987 for the law suits of $875 million dollars, and $800 million dollars, and the kidnapping-spine damages-molestation 11 counts $1.05 million dollars per 97 days. On the 12th day of April 2021 a letter from JENNIFER E Y JORDEN saying, she received the FED-X of the Writ but they were not documents; wrong. These filings the due dates go back to 10/11/2019-file number 5CF-92CB. I was illegally removed from my property under VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT {B}{132} my brain injuries were witnessed by five individuals, Billy Moss picked up 5 different double cement blocks hit myself in the skull, now I do not walk at all due to the fact they stopped my care and treatments. I am living on the streets, and pictures of myself out in the rain all night. But arrest myself in both Cherokee-Pickens Counties of Ga in January 6, 2020 held until April 12, 2020, no Attorney while questioned for 32 days; then the same process in Cherokee County Ga 8th day of August 2020 no attorney while questioned; but they have a special bond? Why is it these people have never been in a police line up in either county? I was poisoned by the one who was to give care witnessed, but they never went to court. Can see why the hurt? I was 4 months and 10 days pregnant, and I am in the rain.

    • I GO OUT IN WEATHER ALL FROM THE ILLEGAL REMOVAL GO FOR CAPITAL CHARGES. To know ATTEMPTED MURDER IN GA LAW (2010) if you are not allowed to enter testimony, documents, and witnesses; and physical and economic harms 5 counts a day of Attempted Murder at lest from the 21st day of August 2019. 721 Swan Bridge Rd Talking Rock Ga 30175-neither accusation can stand in court. The WARRANT NO. in Cherokee County Ga #CE0124946-each one from the 21st day of August 2019 including the judges in both Pickens & Cherokee Counties of Ga and each who called can CAPITAL charges, but I am the one hurt.

  5. Please post each. I am on my last day of money and yes, I have slept outside. BAYMONT 2170 DELK ROAD-MARIETTA Ga 30067. Every last one involved Capital Charges if this does not end now. Each picked up today.

  6. These individuals do not know that on disability over 18, not just the disabled law but elderly laws. This abuse, neglect of food, shelter, medications, care, and my family going back to the 21st day of August 2019. Not just one county both both counties who have allowed this to drag on. I have went and called from the given date. They used POWER OF ATTORNEY they can have no gains but the dates are very funny and by whom it was sign it is EXTORTION THROUGH DECEPTION. Not just the paid for home but 3 cars, and finances. It was not filed for almost 4 years, but I was medication and Pickens County Ga Clerk Jennifer Jorden and Commissioners have received letter and visits. Every last one including commissioners can be help on ATTEMPTED MURDER from 21st day of August 2019 until today, even the judges for not knowing the laws. Then abuse and neglect of the disabled and elderly; but on top it is CAPITAL charges per day. Past a HATE CRIMES. Any and all involved that has kelp these lies going; even the Sheriff’s.

  7. See what these do not get, not just any lawsuit; PAIN & SUFFERING LAWSUITS. These were passed by the GEORGIA SUPREME COURT from the 2010 to 2020 every one falls under PAIN & SUFFERING LAWSUITS, List of those from one office of all names and I out in the rain; have no room each picked up today charges filed. This continues also sexual harassment charges per day from the start.

  8. What neither get Capital charges mean the results of their actions can result in TONYA MOSS death. 7/19/*2021—10:30AM–Or all properties, including businesses are placed in TONYA MOSS name. In Cherokee-Pickens counties of Ga. Billy E Moss was sued way before his death. Ruth Moss lawsuit due in full and I TONYA MOSS no shelter. If one word about MEMORY CARE right then KIDNAPPING CHARGES. I was used in MEMORY CARE HOMES. Plus the abduction charges of BRITTANY L MOSS; but also PEYTON & GAVIN MORGAN -these will be FEDERAL KIDNAPPING CHARGES of both, per day gone; and I have names.

  9. RUTH LEE YOUNG MOSS and poisoning witnessed by three, if TONYA MOSS cases and lawsuits by 10:00am the 19th day of July 2021 then mandatory life for RUTH L Y MOSS. I will give all names after the given time. Cherokee and Pickens Counties better know why she no POLICE PHOTOS-CHARGES with witnesses, given the time and date.

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