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How to Write a Summary: 4 Tips for Writing a Good Summary

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 9, 2020 • 3 min read

With a great summary, you can condense a range of information, giving readers an aggregation of the most important parts of what they’re about to read (or in some cases, see). A well-written summary provides a basic understanding of a piece of literature, media, or history. Learn more about how to write an effective summary for an established work.



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What Is a Summary?

A summary is a brief summarization of a larger work that gives the reader a comprehensive understanding. To write a summary, a writer will gather the main ideas of an article, essay, television show, or film they’ve read or watched and condense the central ideas into a brief overview. Summaries provide an abridged description of another work in the form of a paragraph, providing enough detail so that the reader understands the subject of the summary, while highlighting the summary writer’s personal understanding of the subject matter.

What Is the Purpose of a Summary?

The purpose of a summary is to provide readers with a succinct overview of important details or interesting information, without inserting a personal opinion. A summary gives a brief rundown of the main points of a text or piece of media, like the abstract to a scientific paper, a description of a movie’s plot, or in the form of a novel synopsis.

What Is an Example of a Summary?

You can use a summary across many writing genres. You can summarize an academic essay and its supporting arguments, or the plot to a novel or television show. You can also summarize an historical event or a fairy tale. For example:

“Hansel and Gretel” follows the story of a brother and sister who must use their cunning to outsmart an evil witch intent on consuming them. In the beginning of the story, a great famine sweeps across the land, leaving little food or resources to spare. Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother leads the children into the woods intent on leaving them there to die. However, when Hansel hears of her plan, he collects a pocket full of white pebbles, dropping them as a trail for he and his sister as their stepmother attempts her plan the next day. When the duo makes their way home, the stepmother decides to bring them deeper into the woods. Hansel takes a slice of bread with him, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind. This time, birds eat the crumbs, destroying the trail back. Hansel and Gretel wander into a clearing, where they find a cottage made of treats. As they eat the house, the elderly woman who lives there invites them inside, where they discover she’s not a generous, old lady after all—she’s a witch with a particular taste for children.

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4 Tips for Writing a Good Summary

Whether you’re summarizing an event, novel, play, or newspaper article, being able to write an effective one-paragraph summary is an important skill for every writer to possess. For some tips on how to write a good summary, see below:

  1. Find the main idea. A useful summary distills the source material down to its most important point to inform the reader. Pick the major point you want to communicate to the reader, and use your limited sentences wisely to convey it. Take down a few notes to help outline your thoughts in an organized manner.
  2. Keep it brief. A summary is not a rewrite—it’s a short summation of the original piece. A summary paragraph is usually around five to eight sentences. Keep it short and to the point. Eliminate redundancies or repetitive text to keep your paragraph clear and concise.
  3. Write without judgment. If you are summarizing an original text or piece of media, you are gathering and condensing its most relevant information, not writing a review. Write your summary in your own words, and avoid adding your opinion.
  4. Make sure it flows. Transitions are incredibly helpful when it comes to building momentum in your writing. Connect your sentences with transition words, making sure they flow together and convey your summary clearly.


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