How to Write a Summary

How to Write a Summary thumbnail

What is a summary?

A summary is an overview or condensed version of a full story, which usually highlights the main points of a text or piece of work. Summaries can be written or visual - for example, a movie trailer can be considered a summary, or “sneak peak”/synopsis and its aim is to encourage viewers to watch the full film. It typically reveals some of the most important points of a plot but always leaves the audience wanting to find out more!

In theory, writing summaries should be easy, as your child should already have all the information needed to produce this piece of writing. However it can be a difficult task to accomplish without the right guidance, and something that even adults struggle with sometimes! The ability to write an effective summary is a key academic writing skill, and something that should be taught to young writers as soon as they start producing written work.

Here are some aspects your child should consider when writing a high quality summary:

What is the purpose of this summary?

When writing a summary, your child should think of whether they wish to provide a complete overview of the piece or if they’d prefer to give their audience just enough information to prompt them to read the full version of the text. A complete overview of the full text is useful when the piece is factual or informative. In other contexts, sometimes it’s important not to give everything away, as it may tarnish the reader’s experience when or if they decide to read the full text. For example, leaving some major points out is key when writing a summary for a movie synopsis or a book blurb!

While the purpose of a summary may differ depending on the original piece, it should always be written with the aim to inform our readers, and tell them in one way or another, what they should expect when reading the full text.

Who is the target audience?

The summary should “speak” directly to the text’s target audience, which can be tricky to achieve! For example, if your child has written a funny story and is looking to produce an effective summary for it, they should take a comedic approach to the way they describe the full-length text, whereas if they’re writing an overview for a factual piece, this summary should be a lot more formal.

Regardless of the theme or genre of the original piece, an effective summary will gather all the relevant information available in the text in a way that the audience understands the key points of the piece at hand.

Notebook with bullet points

Summaries should be short, concise and direct

They’re very useful as they’ll let your child’s target audience know what the piece is about and the key events that take place, even if they know nothing about the full-length story. An effective summary, as previously explained, helps the reader understand the general idea and sometimes, major points discussed in a particular piece, therefore it’s important to stick to the facts and leave their own opinions to be discussed in greater detail in full-length pieces of writing.

Some summaries are easier to write than others. On one hand, longer work can be seen as difficult to summarize, as there are often multiple important points to be mentioned. On the other hand, summarizing a shorter text can also be tricky, as your child won’t want to give too much away! Summaries definitely take some time to get right, but once your child grasps the concept, we promise there’s no stopping them!

What makes a good summary?

Think about the key questions - who, where, when, what, why and how:

The last question can be optional, if the aim of the summary is to encourage the audience to read the text in order to learn what happens in the end.

Pro tip: usually, summaries are written in the present tense and may or may not include the author’s name depending on the nature of the complete text. For example, a summary for a factual/informative piece of work will likely contain the author’s name, whereas this is sometimes omitted in summaries for fictional stories.

Sticky notes with How, Where, When, What Who and Why written on them

What information should be relayed to the reader?

Remember, summaries should be short and easy to understand, so all the information included should be concise and relevant to the overall plot. Summaries should underline the key plot points of a story, or the main findings in a research paper, while simultaneously creating some curiosity about the full piece.

Write in a neutral perspective

Sometimes summaries can be a little biassed, especially if we’re the author of the piece! As a result, it’s always important to remember that a summary isn’t a review of the full text, but instead a “sneak-peak” of what the piece is about.

When summarizing a text written by someone else, your child should use their own words to avoid plagiarism, and also avoid sharing their own opinions in the summary. Remember, a summary should always sound neutral!

Ensure chronological order

It’s crucial that the summary follows the same chronological order as the full-length text, as the aim is to provide the audience with a clear overview of the main points that take place. Changing the order of these events will result in some confusion and maybe even give the reader the wrong impression.

Remove all unnecessary information.

Editing is your child’s best friend! A summary should always be reviewed and edited in order to condense information and remove all irrelevant aspects (which contribute to the development of the full-length text but don’t play a part in the plot - an example of this is the description of a specific setting).

The writing process of a summary should follow the same planning as longer work pieces. Perhaps your child should try to summarize all the key points by looking at the topic sentences of each of the paragraphs and then choose the most important and/or relevant themes to mention in their summary.

The major points chosen to be included in the summary should reflect its purpose - as explained in previous sections, if the aim is to entice the audience to read the full text, then it’s important to leave some important points out, especially the ending of the piece. If the purpose of the summary is to inform or present facts, statistics or research findings, it’s crucial not to mislead the audience!

In "summary"...

Night Zookeeper logo, displayed on tablet screen.

After these tips and tricks, your child will have a better understanding of how to write summaries and why they are so important. To learn even more about different writing styles, our reading & writing program can help your children learn about opinion writing, informative writing, narrative writing, and much more.

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