How to Summarize a Chapter, Story, and Essay

A summary is a concise and accurate explanation of the main idea of a text. It should be brief, but it must not leave out any important details. A good summary will tell more than what has been read while also providing the reader with an understanding of the author’s intention. This article will discuss how to summarize chapters, stories, and essays to understand them better.

How to Structure a Summary

There are some key points to take into consideration before summarizing a text:

1) The order of events should be organized

2) The main idea must be highlighted

3) Each supporting detail and argument must be listed

4) Finally, any conclusions drawn by the author must also be reviewed.

Organizing the text logically will help better understand it. After this, all details must be listed and organized chronologically or by importance, depending on the structure of the text.

Another important aspect that one should not forget is that summaries are written with certain audiences in mind. Summaries can be written to inform, persuade, entertain, or even criticize. When writing a summary, the author will have to use different strategies accordingly.

It is important to understand that not all texts can be summarized since some contain too much information to fit into a summary. Before summarizing a text, the reader should first understand it and only then write it down.

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Summary of a Chapter

When you summarize a chapter, you describe the main idea and provide an overview of its contents.

If the chapter is boring or not your favorite, then you might feel bored in summarizing it. To make it less dull and keep yourself motivated while reading, do something else simultaneously, like listening to music or doing household chores.

Take note of the kinds of vocabulary you will encounter in the chapter. It would also be wise to look at its topic as well as any charts, diagrams and graphs that it might contain. This way, you will become more prepared when writing your summary.

Try reading the chapter’s introduction first before proceeding to read and summarize the rest of the chapter. This way, you will know what to expect and can grasp the main idea of the chapter at once.

Summary of a Story

When you summarize a story, you mention the basic plot and outline its important details. You are not required to detail each and every part of the story, nor should you leave out any of its key events.

Like a chapter’s summary, you should read the introductory paragraphs first before taking on this task. This way, you will better understand the story and come up with better content for your summary.

The plot is key when writing a summary of any story. You should know what to include in your content and which parts you need not mention. The idea here is that you do not add unnecessary details in your summary, but rather focus on the most important ones.

Summary of an Essay

When you summarize an essay, you briefly explain its main ideas and give a general overview of its most important points. You can also state your position about the issues raised by the author in the essay.

The summary of any written work is similar to those of stories and chapters. Before writing it down, make sure that you read through all relevant parts of the essay. Take note of all the important details that you can include in your summary. It is also essential that you understand each point made by the author before writing a good summary.

Examples of Summaries in Each Type of Text (Chapter, Story, and Essay)

The examples given below will help you understand these types of summaries better.

Example 1: Summary of a chapter (Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark)

Hamlet is a Prince of Denmark and the son to the late King Hamlet. He was sent by his father, King Hamlet, to study in England. He later returns to Denmark after he hears that his father died mysteriously. As a Prince, he claims the throne of Denmark.

Prince Hamlet’s uncle Claudius became the new King of Denmark after King Hamlet’s death. However, it is unclear how Claudius became the next in line to succeed the throne since he is second to Prince Hamlet.

Prince Hamlet learns that King Hamlet was murdered by his brother Claudius and vows to take revenge on him. He pretends to be insane to gain access to the castle wherein Claudius is. He kills Polonius, a counsellor of King Claudius, and frames his uncle for it by using a pre-arranged plan with Gertrude, the wife of Claudius and his mother.

Torn between her love for her late husband and her current marriage with King Claudius, Queen Gertrude drinks a cup of poison meant for King Claudius. She dies instantly, leaving Prince Hamlet and the audience in great shock.

King Claudius is killed by his nephew when he tries to drink from another poisoned cup meant for Prince Hamlet. The latter becomes the new king after learning that his uncle killed his father. Meanwhile, Fortinbras, Prince Hamlet’s good friend and the rightful heir to the throne of Norway, was passing by Denmark during this time. Upon learning about King Claudius’ death and Prince Hamlet taking over as new king, he claims what is rightfully his.

Prince Hamlet becomes sick after using the poisoned cup meant for his uncle. He died after telling Horatio and Marcellus, two of his closest friends and guards, to be witnesses that his uncle murdered him.

Prince Hamlet’s ghost visits Horatio to tell him that Claudius’ soul must not rest peacefully, since Prince Hamlet was killed by his acts of treason. He also asks Horatio to tell the people about what happened and urges them to take action against Claudius.

Example 2: Summary of a story (The Story of The Three Little Pigs)

This story tells of three little pigs and the big bad wolf.

The first pig built his house out of straw, which the wolf easily blew down; the second pig built his house out of sticks and had two glasses of water on top that froze solid, causing him to slide down the roof when the wolf knocked on it and break his neck; the third pig built his house out of bricks which resisted everything the wolf could throw at it.

The wolf was frustrated that he could not blow off the third pig’s house, so he started to huff and puff until many houses around him fell. He ran home, fell in the fireplace, and was never seen again.

Example 3: Summary of an essay (“The Great Wall of China” by Peter Connolly)

The essay talks about the origin and history of the Great Wall of China, as well as its significance to the country’s culture. It was first built by Emperor Qin Shi Huang in 220 BC during the Zhou Dynasty for defensive purposes. Several dynasties later, he ordered that many laborers be involved in this project, with his chief architect creating a master blueprint.

The wall was designed with features such as battlements, watchtowers, and fortresses to protect the country from invaders. It had a long history of hundreds of years until its collapse in several areas past the Ming Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty did many repair works, but parts of it were permanently demolished by local people, tourists, rulers, and foreign forces. The Great Wall of China is now a national symbol of pride and honor for the country.

Do not Do this While Writing a Summary!

While writing summaries, ensure to avoid the following mistakes:

  • Using too many quotations.
  • Inserting additional information that is not in the main body of the text, can be distracting to readers and may impact the main idea of the main text being summarized.
  • Inappropriate or incorrect use of punctuation within summaries.
  • Formatting

  • Both proofreading and editing

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Tips for Writing a Good Summary

Here’s a checklist on how to write an effective summary:

  • Put supporting ideas in quotation marks (“)
    • Put main ideas in the main text (not in quotation marks), and when summarizing, keep the main ideas in your own words. Make sure to not change the main arguments into supporting arguments.
    • Keep the main ideas of the main paragraphs together. Put the main idea of the main paragraph at the beginning and put the main supporting points under that. Put main supporting points in order as they appear in the main text, but do not change main arguments into supporting arguments.
    • Use transition words only when necessary (mainly for long summaries).
    • The main character stays the main character.
    • Summarize the last main paragraph last.
    • Summarize the main characteristics of the main characters: their names, where they live (to give background), and why they are in the main text (the main idea).
    • Comprehend an idea before introducing another one. One paragraph per character/chapter is enough.

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