How to Write a Summary

How to write a summary allows the writer to identify the elements of a story, the thesis of an article, or the topic in any piece of writing.

It’s about making a brief listing of the main points of, for our purposes here, an article. I’ll be using my article below as an example. Any piece of writing can be summarized using these steps.

Summarizing allows you to filter out all the unnecessary details and get to the core of what is being written.

Follow the steps below and you should be able to dissect any writing, no matter the type of prose or content.

We have a Template: We now have a great template for you to follow when writing summaries. A viewer created the form from our information here. After learning about writing in this format, you may copy and paste the Writing a Summary Template into your word processor for your use.

Tips for

How to Write a Summary

1 – Read the entire document through. This will give you a more complete understanding of its meaning.

While reading, on a separate piece of paper, make a notation of the subject being written about. Notice that the subject should be spoken of at least in the beginning and the ending of the piece.

If you do not find this information in its proper place, note that also. It will determine if the writer has made their point in the end.

Having read through once, ask yourself:

    How does the story begin?

    How does the middle support and move the idea along?

    How does the ending fit?

2 – Assuming you have a working copy of the document, and not the original, go back through and highlight all points crucial to the theme or to the subject of the writing.

    Pay no attention to trivial information.

    In learning how to write a summary, critically analyze each paragraph and note when new topics are introduced to support the story. Make note of only the most important, and they may be few.

3 - When you have finished the above steps, look only at your notes, and write a one or two-sentence statement that explains what the story is about.

    This step is a lot easier to do with a shorter story or article. But learning how to write a summary using these steps applies to everything in writing, including book-length stories.

4 – Next, list the main points you’ve highlighted in order to show the flow of the plot or article topic and purpose.

5 – You’re almost to the bottom of the list of points in how to write a summary. Now write what you believe the story or article is about.

    Use only the main points that you have highlighted.

    Write in your own voice or terminology. Do not write what is already in the material.

6 – The last step in how to write a summary is writing the conclusion. State what you feel was the purpose of the story or article, or what the author accomplished in the writing.

    Do not inject any of your own thoughts. In other words, do not state how you feel the story should have ended. Do not state how you might have written it. Only state how the author brought the writing to conclusion.

7 – As with anything written, once your summary is finished, proofread and edit.

    Be certain that any strange spelling and terminology used by the original author of the piece are included in your summary.


Here’s an example or how to write an summary using one of my brief articles.

I have not highlighted key phrases, as suggested in the above tips, so that you will have a smoother read-thru. I listed the phrases farther below, as if using a separate sheet of paper as suggested.

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The Hawaiian Muu-muu

as a Writing Aid

Your Muse needs comfort and less distraction too.

One of the joys of living in Hawaii is wearing a Muu-muu. When I go out on an errand, if I’m wearing shorts and a tee, I change into a Muu-muu when I’m home and ready to write again.

Well, I even go shopping in a Muu-muu if the idea strikes me. I’m a Kama`aina to these Islands, a transplant, and have yet to fully adopt some of the more relaxed local customs.

I tried sitting at my computer wearing street clothes like shorts, jeans, or even a dress. Doing so reminded me of the discomfort I felt when wearing sleek suits to an office where one’s grooming and appearance was so important. Most waistbands are too binding when sitting to write, actually making me feel like I’m strangling my creativity. Any discomfort is a distraction.

A friend who also writes can turn out an article in a room full of noisy people. Maybe that’s because she’s a journalist, and catches news as it’s happening.

Writing is a personal thing for me, something I do very much alone, because I can become quite animated.

When I write, I feel everything I create and often act out the gestalt of the characters. That is, I speak the parts or play-act to make sure the words flow like ordinary conversation. I read the whole story out loud and move around a lot and gesture.

The more we writers feel what we write, the more likely we are to convey the emotion and meaning of the story to the reader.

So feeling constricted is out of the question. My writing wardrobe is to dress my muse comfortably. In these Islands, colorful, loose fitting Muu-muus are perfect. I can even answer the door wearing a Muu-muu instead of a bathrobe.


Step 1 - The subject…

    How does the story begin? The joy of wearing a Muu-muu is mentioned in the first paragraph.

    How does the middle support and move the idea along? How other clothing is binding, opposite the comfort of the Muu-muu, AND moves the story along.

    How does the ending fit? The ending is that not only are Muu-muus comfortable for this writer, but more appropriate in these Islands for answering the doorbell.

Step 2 - I have not highlighted on this page so that you can read through and make your own decisions.

    At the bottom of this summarizing, you will see how much information, though necessary to the article, would be considered trivial in learning how to write a summary.

Step 3 – The one or two-sentence summary.

    I actually came up with two different one-sentence summaries:

    Clothing can add a measure of discomfort, distracting the writer from full creativity.

    Your Muse needs comfort and less distraction too. (When this article was published, I chose this one to head up the article. You saw it just under the title.)

NOTE: For those of you who might be called upon to write a one-sentence logline for your story or screenplay:

    Learning how to write a summary is the way you can come up with the most accurate one or two-sentence description that’s required in the writing industry for most writing.

Step 4 - Notice that I put the topic of the article right inside the Title itself:

    The Hawaiian Muu-muu as a Writing Aid

    wearing a Muu-muu

    wearing street clothes

    waistbands are too binding

    discomfort is a distraction

    When I write, I… move around a lot and gesture.

    feeling constricted is out of the question

    My writing wardrobe is to dress my muse comfortably

    Loose fitting Muu-muus are perfect

Steps 5 and 6 – The last point in how to write a summary is writing the summary. Here’s mine.

    Mary Deal writes about how the Hawaiian Muu-muu is a writing aid.

    Wearing a Muu-muu is more comfortable than wearing binding street clothes when sitting to write. Tight clothing is a distraction and stifles her Muse, her creativity. She moves around a lot and gestures, acting out her character’s parts in order to make the writing realistic. So feeling constricted is out of the question.

    The Hawaiian Muu-muu is loose fitting and suits her Muse just fine and does not distract attention from the flow of creativity.

Step 7 – Most vital in how to write a summary is proofreading and editing. What good is writing a summary if it’s fraught with errors of your own? And believe me, I am no stranger to errors.

Compare the above steps in how to write a summary to my summary.

Now notice how much of the article is considered trivial information. But of course, what’s considered trivial is actually not. It’s necessary to flesh out the piece. The extra material supports the thesis.

Can you imagine what this article would be like without the extra information? Fleshing it out is what makes it complete.

In learning how to write a summary, you’ve only to follow the main point the author wants to make.

It does not matter if you write one paragraph or a few shorter ones.

Avoid getting into long summaries unless you are summarizing a very long piece of writing. Even so, in learning how to write a summary, you can still distill anything down to one only or a few short paragraphs.

When I learned how to write a summary, I listed everything vertically. Others find it easier to make their lists in columns across the page, like a graph.

It makes no difference how you keep track of your lists of information. The lists are brief and easily understood once you write down the main points from the piece of prose.

Learning how to write a summary can be very interesting and cause you to view a story or article in a different light. You can see many things you might have missed simply by reading through once.

When I learned how to write a summary, I practiced on a few pieces of writing from my friends to help them understand their own stories.

I also learned a lot about the elements of a story. You always learn more as you practice various techniques to make you a better writer.

The writing life is for me. These tips for writing a summary helped me with my own stories and articles. Learning how to write a summary will do the same for you.


Thanks to a very gracious viewer, we now have a template for you to use in learning how to write a summary. You'll find it on Writing a Summary.

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