How to Correctly Summarize a Short Story

Summarizing is an important skill to master since it helps students learn reading comprehension and hones writing proficiency. Students need to summarize articles, essays, events and short stories throughout their academic careers, including college. Properly breaking a short story down into its basic elements requires careful reading, preparation and explanation of the ideas from the text.


A summary is a shortened version of a longer piece of reading. Rather than restating all the ideas from the story and telling each event that occurs, a summary of a short story relates the main events without extraneous detail. Very much like the response you may give when someone asks you what a new movie is about, the summary for a story gives the general plot using anywhere from one or two sentences to a short paragraph.


The first step in creating a good summary requires careful reading of the entire story. After a first reading, go through the story again, highlighting, underlining or copying down what seem to be the most significant events. You may also find it helpful to develop a visual map or web that establishes the most significant events and how they connect to each other. These are the ideas to include in the summary.


A formal summary often begins with the title and author of the story. The subsequent sentences answer the question words: who, what, when, where, why and how. Include the information that addresses the central idea of the story, the point the writer wanted to get across and what events lead up to that conclusion. Avoid including your opinion about the story in a summary. Instead, include only information from the story itself. The amount of detail included depends upon the specific assignment -- a longer summary includes more detail about the characters and events.


A correctly written summary also follows certain rules about writing. Summaries typically use present tense verbs like "comes" and "appear," as if the events are taking place currently, rather than past tense like "came" and "appeared." Proper summaries do not include quotes from the original story. Instead, use your own words to explain the events to your reader. A good rule of thumb for length is to keep the summary at no more than one-half the length of the original story. If your summary contains more words, cut details unnecessary for the reader's understanding of the story and its point.

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