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.
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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.