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A summary, synopsis, or recap is a shorter version of the original. Such a simplification highlights the major points from the much longer subject, such as a text, speech, film, or event. The purpose is to help the audience get the gist in a short period of time.
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A written summary starts with a lead, including title, author, text type, and the main idea of the text. It has a clearly arranged structure and is written in a logical, chronological, and traceable manner. In contrast to a résumé or a review, a summary contains neither interpretation nor rating. Only the opinion of the original writer is reflected – paraphrased with new words without quotations from the text. Unlike a retelling, a summary has no dramatic structure and is written in present tense or historic present. Because summaries are significantly shorter than the original, minor facts have to be left out. However all major conclusions should remain. In summaries only indirect speech is used and depictions are avoided. Summaries of books or dissertations present the major facts in common scientific language and should be about from a half up to one page long.
How to write a summary
- Read the text
- Formulate the main statement
- Reread the text and underline important ideas and arguments according to the main statement
- Introduce the author and title of the work in the opening sentence
- Mention the important facts in chronological order
- Check that the summary reflects the original conclusion
Summary in nonfiction
Nonfiction summaries serve to familiarize the reader with the subject matter of an entire work in a short space of time. They are written in a balanced and objective way, mirroring the genre’s aim to portray actual events from the author’s point of view. Generally, nonfiction summaries do not offer analysis or assessment.
Summarizers use their own words to write the shortened versions and draw on the original make-up of the pieces to structure the distillations. They exclude superfluous examples, descriptions and digressions. The opening sentence should introduce the topic, and the final sentence should sum up the theme, taking into account the knowledge gained from the body of the text.
In recent years, a summarizing industry has sprung up. Leading companies in this field are getAbstract and Summaries.com. These firms focus mainly on business literature. They adhere to the nonfiction guidelines mentioned above, but also provide numerical ratings and evaluations of the titles covered. Shorter, more concise nonfiction summaries are called abstracts. They are approx. 5 pages, thus longer than scientific abstracts.
- Browne & King (2004). Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print. New York: Harper Resource.
- Card, Orson Scott (1988). Character & Viewpoint. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books.
- Marshall, Evan (1998). The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books.
- Selgin, Peter (2007). By Cunning & Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for fiction writers. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books.
- Style (fiction)
- Mode (literature)
- Outline (summary)
- Abstract (summary)
- Wikipedia:Plot summaries
- Wikipedia:How to write a plot summary