Writing a summary of a book is a great way to understand what you’re reading. The summary also provides a quick reference that you can use to recall the main ideas of the book when you need it. To write a good summary, read the book with notes on key ideas, plot twists, and main characters. You can then use your notes to draft your wonderful summary, then reread it.
- Add comments as you read the text.
Adding comments as you read will help you easily find important passages as you write the summary. Circle, highlight, or note down anything that is confusing, important, surprising, or interesting. You can also flag duplications, inconsistencies, and links between chapters.
If the book is yours, feel free to highlight chapters and write something in it. If the book isn’t yours, use sticky notes to mark chapters instead of writing.
- Write notes while reading.
Keep a notebook with you while you read so you can jot down your thoughts. Taking notes while reading allows you to record everything accurately. This will create less workload compared to trying to go back and check the details later.
It might be a good idea to have a few different papers with you for notes. One can be used for general impressions and thoughts, one for lists of characters and events, and another for recording the main themes and ideas of the book.
You can also take notes to record unfamiliar words. Use a dictionary to look up their meanings as you progress, then write down their meanings.
- Keep a list of main characters.
Write the names of the main characters and a brief description of their personalities or key traits. Add a line or two about each main character’s wishes and goals. Use these notes to consider how the characters portray the main themes of the book.
You can also create a timeline of key events that occur in the book, especially if the chronology is complex or confusing. Keep multiple timelines if the story alternates between different plots.
- Divide the book into chapters.
Think of the book in three parts so you don’t get overwhelmed. The story will have an introduction, a development, and a conclusion. Organize your notes according to these sections.
The introduction focuses on introducing the main characters and creating the setting for the story.
The development reveals the main “problem” of the book, whether it is a conflict between good and evil or a murder mystery.
The conclusion solves the main problem of the book.
- Identify the main idea of each section.
Each chapter should have a specific theme and purpose. Think about what the author spends the most time on in each chapter. Be sure to consider the relationship between the departments as well.
- Identify the key idea of the book.
As you read, think about the lesson the book is trying to teach. Notice which theme pops up again and again. It could be something the characters keep talking about, or a fatal flaw in people that is causing the problem repeatedly.
For example, the author might want to tell readers that pride drives people to make bad decisions. To show this, the main character constantly finds himself in big business because he is proud and arrogant.
If you’re reading a non-fiction book, the main idea might be something about history or society. Maybe the author wants to show readers that convenience foods are unhealthy, and the book offers many examples to prove this idea.
Drafting and Editing
- Check if there are length requirements for your summary.
If you’re writing your summary for a school assignment, there’s probably a minimum and maximum limit. Prepare your summary as close to this limit as possible. If the summary is too short, it will look like you haven’t read the book, and if it’s too long, you haven’t written a full summary.
For example, if the word limit is 200, write 190 to 200 words.
Even if you’re writing a summary for your personal use, try to keep it short. Having an abstract of under 500 words allows you to create a quick and easy reference.
- Write the summary in chronological order.
Summaries present events in the order in which they occur. Avoid jumping from one chapter of the book to the next. To preserve the integrity of the original story, start the summary at the beginning of the book and finish it at the end.
- Identify the main ideas and characters of the story.
Start by introducing the title and author of the book, then briefly describe what happened in the book. This should only take a few sentences. Think of it as an introduction.
You could write something like this: “JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone tells the story of a young orphan boy who discovers he is a wizard. In his first year at Hogwarts, Harry learns that there is a Wizarding World filled with witches and wizards, both good and bad.”
- Explain the main ideas of the chapters of the book.
Use your notes to summarize the evolution of the book’s story. Write a few sentences explaining what happens in each chapter, how things build on top of each other, and why this chapter is important to the main idea of the book.
This part of the synopsis could be: “The first part of the book tells the reader what it’s like to be a magician. The reader experiences how surprising this is for Harry, a stranger to this world. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that something dark is going on at Hogwarts, and Harry needs his new friends Ron and Hermione to figure out what’s going on. The end of the book focuses on a series of tests and challenges that Harry cannot accomplish without relying on friendship and his mother’s love.”
- Conclude by stating the main idea of the book.
Conclude your summary by stating the lesson the book teaches. Look back at your notes to remind yourself which theme pops up again and again. This statement should be the last sentence of the summary.
For example: “Rowling used his story to show that even talented people need friendship and love to overcome evil.”
- Add your opinion to the summary.
The abstract should be an unbiased description of the book. Focus on the facts of the story. Do not write about how the book made you feel or whether you agree with the author.
For example, “It’s too bad Voldemort escaped because he’s such a bad guy and the author had to make sure he got caught.” instead, “Both Professor Quirrell and Lord Voldemort disappear after failing to obtain the Philosopher’s Stone.” you can write.
- Read it again to see if there are any errors.
Make sure you spell everything correctly. Read the summary aloud to find grammatical errors or misplaced commas. Double-check the number of words you type.
Don’t rely on spell checking as it can’t take context into account and catch grammatical errors.
You may be writing your summary for a book club or for your own use. In these cases, you want your summary to be meaningful, even if the editing isn’t that important. Quickly reread it to make sure it’s written clearly.
- Share your work with a friend.
If the summary is especially for school, it’s a great idea to get a friend or family member to read your work. They catch mistakes that escape your notice. You can ask a schoolmate to exchange summaries to help each other!
- Find a quiet place to read without distractions.
Choose a place away from the TV. Put your phone on silent and set it aside so it doesn’t tempt you. Just focus on the book and enjoy the time you spend reading.
You should also make sure you’re near a lamp or window so you don’t strain your eyes while reading.
- Read the book in small chunks.
Read in 20-minute sessions so you don’t get overwhelmed. If you like the book very much, you can read it for an hour or two at a time. This will allow you to digest the book slowly.
- If there’s a deadline, give it enough time.
You don’t want to stay up all night trying to read the book and write the summary in one go. Plan to set aside at least two weeks for short books and about a month for long books. Take some time each day to read.
If the summary is for a school assignment or book club, start reading as soon as the book is given. Your teacher or group leader has probably calculated exactly how many weeks it will take you to finish the book and write the summary without stress.
- Reread important sections.
Important parts will be easy to spot. If you notice that a main character is experiencing a great awareness or that there is a sudden twist in the plot, reread these paragraphs from the book.
These chapters generally do not focus on description. Instead, it addresses a turning point in the story, a tragic event, or the resolution of a conflict.
- Pay attention to the main characters.
The main characters, their actions, mistakes and emotions will be the ones who will tell you the key points of the book. Read carefully, especially when the main characters appear.
- Don’t be distracted by small details.
When writing a synopsis, you don’t need to add details about side characters, descriptions, or minor plot points. You should read and pay attention to these sections anyway, but they usually don’t play a major role in the summary.
Author: Mr. Article
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