How To Write a Summary in 5 Steps (With Examples)

Updated August 1, 2023

Image description

A laptop on a desk has files open and someone with just their hands visible is typing on the laptop. There is a list titled "How To Write a Summary" with the following list:
✓ Review the work you're summarizing
✓ Underline and highlight important passages
✓ Extract the main takeaways
✓ Strengthen the main takeaways with supporting evidence
✓ Proofread and edit

Having strong writing skills is an important part of many professions. You need to be able to convey information in a clear, understandable way to whoever is reading it. One type of text that you may need to write during your career is a summary. In this article, we explain what is summary is and how to effectively write one.

Related: How to Write a Powerful Personal Statement

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What is a summary?

A summary is a piece of writing that tells the main ideas of something. It is basically a shortened version of a larger text that describes its main points. Writers use it to describe a story, article, movie, television show, presentation or another piece of content in a more succinct way. If you want to write an effective summary, you need to be able to identify the most important parts of a text and describe them to someone who may not be familiar with the text.

Related: 5 Steps for Great Business Writing (With Tips)

How to write a summary

Follow these steps when writing a summary:

1. Carefully review the work you're summarizing

If you are writing a summary of a written text, make sure to read it carefully. Take note of what the author is saying and why they are saying it. Likewise, when writing a summary about something you are watching, make sure to take detailed notes. You may even want to consider reading or watching the text multiple times to ensure you caught all of the most important details, information or plot points.

2. Underline and highlight important passages

Another way to ensure you are remembering important information is to highlight or underline words as you go. If you are watching something, write down timestamps of when important things happen. This makes it easier for you to look back on them when you are writing your summary.

3. Write down the main points

Format your summary into sentences that make up paragraphs. Get started by writing down the main points of the text in your own words. Make sure to write down these main points as they were presented by the author of the text, meaning that you should write them in chronological order.

4. Add in supporting points

Add in some major supporting points for your main idea. While these are more detailed sentences, make sure they connect to the rest of the text. There is no need to add in minor details if they do not add any value to your summary. For instance, if the character's eye color was not a major plot point, there is no need to include it in your summary. You only want to add general information that will give the reader a high-level understanding of the text.

5. Proofread it

After you're finished writing your summary, carefully proofread it. See if what you wrote would make sense to someone who has never read or watched the text you are writing about. Also, look for any grammatical errors to ensure it is a well-written summary.

Related: 10 Resume Writing Tips to Help You Land a Job

What to include in a summary

Include the following things in a summary:

  • Main ideas

  • Supporting points

  • Plot points

  • Important characters or people involved

  • Important locations

  • Facts or figures that stand out

  • Major events that happened

Related: Guide to Submitting a Writing Sample

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Examples of summaries

Use these summaries as examples when writing your own:

Example 1

"This is the story of Mary Walters. Mary has lived a life of wealth and luxury as a socialite in New York City. One day her luck changed when she met Maggie Wilson. The two women developed a strong friendship ever since the day Mary met her at a rooftop party in Brooklyn. They were inseparable, going to lunch during the day and for cocktails at night. Mary spoiled Maggie with all kinds of gifts and expensive vacations. She felt like she could trust Maggie with anything until she discovered her bank account had been emptied.

Throughout the story, Mary has a suspicion that Maggie was the one who emptied her account. Sure enough, late one night, Mary went through Maggie's purse and found her social security card. Mary confronts Maggie, and the two of them get into a major argument. Mary called the police and Maggie is arrested. Mary learns that she needs to base her friendships on more meaningful things than money. She vows to never blindly trust anyone again."

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing (With Video)

Example 2

"This video clip is about a border collie named Beau that can do all sorts of tricks. The video starts off with his owner, Nate, explaining that he has always loved border collies because they are so smart. Throughout the video, Nate demonstrates every trick Beau can do, which include sit, stay, down, up, play dead, spin, weave, crawl and even cleaning up his toys. Throughout the video, Beau is wagging his tail and quite happy to do these commands. Nate is sure to give him a lot of treats throughout the entire video."

Example 3

"In this article, journalist, Fiona Fargo, details the incredible story of Redd Jones. Redd grew up in a low-income neighborhood. While he loved his neighborhood and community, Redd always dreamed of a better life. That's why he saved up his entire life to put himself through medical school. He started collecting aluminum cans for money when he was in middle school, he went on to work at a fast-food restaurant in high school. Sure enough, by graduation, he made enough to pay for his first year of college, though he also had to work hard to earn a couple of scholarships.

Upon graduating from medical school years later, Redd volunteered his time abroad in developing countries. He returned to the United States with a new outlook on the world. He made it his mission to start a nonprofit company that provided assistance to people who couldn't afford their medical bills. Since starting his charity, Redd has saved the lives of over 1,000 patients. In his free time, he returns to his community to provide free medical care to families in need."

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