Strategies to Improve Summary Writing

, Staff Writer
Updated August 22, 2016
student writing a summary at computer
    student writing a summary at computer
    Wavebreakmedia Ltd / Wavebreak Media / Getty Images Plus

Summary writing is a great skill to have as a reader, writer, and movie-goer. It’s important to be able to write all kinds of summaries - some short, condensed, and simple; some elaborate, long, and extremely detailed. Writing summaries is an easy skill to learn and an even easier skill to practice. Summaries are an important part of everyday life, providing a way to quickly share information.

How to Practice Writing a Great Summary

The best summaries are usually only a paragraph long. See if you can develop your own favorite format for organizing summary information in a paragraph. Remember that readers of summaries will usually be skimming for factual information. They won't take time to read carefully. This means you will have to be clear and to the point. You can practice writing summaries about almost anything.

  • Writing Brief Summaries: Try taking your favorite books, movies, or television shows and writing one paragraph summaries of them. You can even do this with news broadcasts or podcasts. Find a trusted friend who also read or watched what you are summarizing and ask for feedback on what you wrote. If you want, you can log on to websites that sell books and movies, and submit a few summaries of your own for titles that you like. This kind of practical work will help you improve your skills quickly.
  • Practice Aloud: You can also boost your summary writing skills by practicing aloud. The next time that someone asks you what a certain movie, show, or book was about, try to explain in words using two sentences or less. Only share the main details, such as the main theme, the main conflict, and the main characters. If they ask you to expand upon your ideas, only then can you extrapolate. Don't be surprised if they don't ask for more information. Chances are that you probably did a great job of sharing the critical details through your spoken summary. This exercise will help you get in the habit of conveying meaningful information in a concise, well-organized manner.
  • Review Examples of Summaries: Spend some time looking at summaries that other people have written to get a better understanding of what a well-written summary is like. Reading synopsis examples of books that you have read can provide insights into what should be included in a summary.
  • Review Yourself: Practice your summary writing skills by penning a summary of your own life, either overall or a particular aspect of your background. Review these LinkedIn summary examples for students for inspiration, so you can see others have approached a similar summary writing exercise.

One you hone your summary writing skills using these strategies, continue to focus on improving your ability to summarize every chance you get. Take the skills you have practiced and translate them to the page.


Formatting a Summary

It is far more effective to keep a summary short - people are always more eager to read something short than something long. The longer something is, the greater a chance there is of including mistakes or misinformation within a piece of writing. In general, it is a good idea to consider having a summary outline format to keep your writing on point.

  • Have a topic sentence that gives information about the creators of the piece you are summarizing and the title of this information.
  • Include a few sentences about the people involved. These people may be the artists involved in the production, the characters of a book, or the actors in a movie.
  • Summarize the plot elements of the book: What are the critical things that happen, and how are they resolved?
  • Include a summary of the themes or morals of a book, story, production, or work of art.
  • Wrap up your summary with a sentence that pulls all of your ideas together about the piece. Your summary can be anywhere from a few sentences long to a few paragraphs, depending on the kind of summary you are writing.

Tips and Tricks: Summary Writing Strategies

Keep these tips and tricks in mind while working on improving your summary writing skills.

Identify Important Information

When writing a summary, try creating two columns on a piece of paper: One for important information, and one for trivial information.

  • Organize your thoughts on this page, and try to only include important information in your summary.
  • Trivial information can be organized in this list for your future reference, but you should not put it in the written summary.

Focus on the Facts

When writing a summary, it is important to remain objective. Remember that you are not writing a review, which would require sharing your opinion. When writing a summary you should focus on the facts. Keep your own reflections out of your summary, aiming to share information instead of opinions.

  • Creativity in a summary can be a good way to introduce new ideas and topics, but that should not be your main focus.
  • It is more important to give accurate information than creative opinions and fillers.

Ask for Feedback

Ask a teacher, professor, friend, or other contact to critique your summary writing work. Request tips for the type of writing you are doing and ask how you can improve on any specific issues you may have with writing effective summaries.

Continue to Improve Your Writing Skills

Now that you have the information you need to improve your summary writing skills, it’s a great time to focus on learning more about other types of fact-based writing. Learn about technical writing or discover how to improve your journalistic writing skills with tips on writing a news report.