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How to Write a Summary

Mr. Klingensmith's Online Writing Guide

An easy to understand Online Writing Guide for beginning writers.  Here you will find a list of various writing models, general tips and hints to help guide you to writing success.

The big idea

The summary is one of the four big types of writing you need to know (the other three being persuasive, response to literature and narrative).  In the summary, you're expected to retell the main ideas of something your read in your own words and a shorter form.  If you don't follow those two guidelines, you're not writing a summary.  You're either plagiarizing or paraphrasing.

Before you begin

Read the article you're supposed to summarize, then step back and look at the Big Picture:

  • First, why did the author write it?  Was it informational?  Was it trying to convince you of something?  Was it supposed to talk you into doing something?
  • Second, what are the main ideas of the piece?  What are the chunks of information that the author wanted you to know?

How to do it

The summary really has three main parts:

  1. The INTRODUCTION, in which you need to do the following:
    • Set the hook by beginning with something that is interesting for the reader, while still being on-topic, school-appropriate and essay-appropriate;
    • Mention the title and author of the piece you're summarizing;
    • Give some idea of the purpose the author had in mind for the piece;
    • Give some idea of the subtopics you'll be addressing in your summary.
  2. The BODY, in which you need to do the following:
    • Tell the author's main ideas, mainly in your own words;
    • Choose only the most important and interesting details to bring your summary to life for the reader;
    • Include a quote or two from the actual article when the author puts something in an especially interesting or effective way.
  3. The CONCLUSION, in which you need to do the following:
    • Reset the hook in a slightly different way than you did up above;
    • Restate the main ideas very briefly;
    • Wrap it all up by making your conclusion feel like an ending.

An example

Zombie rodents: everybody complains about them, but nobody knows what to do about them.  Remember the time you tried to feed a zombie bunny a carrot, only to have it try to chomp on your brain instead?  Remember your last picnic, when zombie squirrels came staggering out of the trees toward your family looking for something to eat other than nuts?  Professor Benjamin Dover is a world-famous expert on zombie animals, and in his article "Zombie Rodents: Not So Cute Any More," he gives tips on how to recognize a zombie rodent and what to do when one makes an unexpected and unpleasant appearance.

Dover first explains that the main method of recognizing a zombiefied rodent is from the way it walks.  Instead of scrambling around like a normal squirrel or hopping like a happy little bunny, your typical "zodent" (Dover's term for all zombie rodents) will stagger along slowly and deliberately, focused entirely on your forehead (or, actually, what's hidden just behind your forehead).  "If possible," Dover writes, "the zodent will walk on its hind legs with its forepaws outstretched." This odd way of walking would be a sure tipoff to even the most unobservant.

Since spotting the zodent doesn't end the problem, Dover next describes effective methods of disposing of zodents.  As he writes, "Remember that unless you take action, the little zombie won't stop its attack until it achieves its objective: snacking on your brain." A zombie squirrel or rabbit is easily stopped by dropping a cardboard box over it and taking it to your local Federal Zombie Disposal Facility.  Beavers, of course, will quickly gnaw through a cardboard box; Dover suggests using a metal garbage can instead.  Zombie hamsters can be placed back into their Habitrails.  ("Watch your fingers," Dover warns.  "They want your brain, but they'll settle for any human flesh.")

If the zombie rodent crisis is to be ended, it is crucial that each and every one of us does more than simply complain about the problem.  In "Zombie Rodents: Not So Cute Any More," Ben Dover offers tips for identifying and disposing of these troublesome critters.  It's a must-read for anyone who has to spend an extended amount of time in either the woods or pet stores.  The zodent problem can be solved if you use your head--just don't use it for a zodent appetizer.