How to Write a Book Summary

A book summary condenses the key points and ideas of the original text in an objective format. Unlike a book review or literary response, you won't inject your opinions or interpretations in the summary. A well-written book summary shows that you understood the author's point and are able to pull out the main ideas of the text.

Creating Format

A solid format creates the framework for the book summary. It also helps you determine how much information you need to draw from the book to develop the summary. The summary is significantly shorter than the original work, but the exact length depends on assignment guidelines and the size of the original writing. For a book with chapters, Butte College recommends dividing the number of chapters by the number of pages required for the paper. If your instructor assigns a five-page summary for a book that is 15 chapters long, each page might cover about three chapters. When summarizing a shorter passage, your summary should be about 1/4 to 1/3 the original length. Six to eight paragraphs should sufficiently cover a 24-paragraph article, for example.

Finding Main Ideas in Nonfiction

The type of passage you summarize influences the type of main ideas included in the paper. A nonfiction passage typically states the main ideas in a thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. In a longer passage or book, each section or chapter typically presents a main idea for that section. Note these topic sentences as you read the text. If the main ideas aren't obvious, stop after each chapter or section to determine the author's main point. You should be able to condense it to one sentence. Jot down important facts that support that main idea.

Analyzing Main Ideas in Fiction

The key points in a novel typically take more work to identify. Instead of coming neatly packaged in a topic sentence, works of fiction present main ideas in the form of plot twists, key actions and revelations about characters. Look for pieces of information that change the story line or reveal things that are key to your understanding of the story line. Write notes as you read the book so you'll have a reference when you summarize the work. Leave out the fine details that don't influence the outcome.

Synthesizing the Key Points

The introduction of the summary should include the title and author of the text, along with the overall main idea or storyline of the entire work. You can also introduce the key points throughout the book. These additional key points become the topics of the paragraphs in the body of the summary. Develop the paragraphs with significant supporting details from the passage. This might include names of characters, dates and key events presented in chronological order. Include only details that actually happened in the book. You should reword the ideas so they take on your own voice, but should not include your opinion, agreement or disagreement with the text, interpretations or conclusions that aren't actually presented in the piece.

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