How to Write a Summary

Updated July 12, 2018

A summary conveys the main idea of a body of work in an abbreviated version of the original. Follow the guidelines below, whether writing a summary on a fictional or nonfictional piece.

Read the material. This should be just a preliminary reading, to get the overall idea of the writing. If it is a longer piece of literature such as a novel or long play, break down the reading into sections of 2 hours.

Re-read the material. This time take notes, underlining or highlighting main ideas.

Put together a thesis statement, one sentence explaining the main purpose or central idea of the story or writing.

Break the writing down into main points, or if it is a story, break it down into major events or scenes. Explain these main points or events in one to four sentences depending on the length of the summary.

Reinforce the main points or main events in the story using examples and details from the writing.

Write the first draft of the summary. Keep the main points and events in order. Remember the basic elements of a paper such as introduction, body and conclusion. Some summaries may only be one paragraph in length.

Edit and revise the summary for completion. Check spelling, punctuation and grammar. Use transitional words and phrases. Make sure there is a logical flow of thoughts.

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