Need to write a summary, and you’re not sure where to start? Wondering how many sentences in a summary or how to structure it?
If so, you’re in the right place.
This article will explore the basics of summary writing, its use, how many sentences and paragraphs make a standard summary, and how to write a good one.
What is a summary?
A summary is a brief statement about the main ideas, topics, and points in a given piece of text.
It sums up a book, essay, report, or another longer message in an easy-to-digest and concise way. The summary reader can walk away with a basic understanding of the main piece without having read its entirety.
Summaries also come in abstracts or synopses and, in essence, are short explanations of a text that sum up the key points.
One may be asked to write an article summary, a brief synopsis of a work of fiction, or an abstract for an academic essay.
While all of these summaries differ, they all share some common ground. All must offer the key points in a short, concise way, and all must be original (not plagiarized from the text or any other published summary).
How long is a summary?
There is no universal standard for how many sentences a summary should be.
By their nature, summaries are short, but the type and length of the reference text influence just how long that summary will be.
Some books, articles, or essays can be summated in three to five sentences. Others may span two to three paragraphs.
There may already be guidelines or a given structure in which you are being asked to write a summary for a specific purpose, whether for an assignment in English literature or an abstract for an academic essay or report.
How many sentences in a summary?
As mentioned, some circumstances in which you must write a summary will already outline how many sentences you need.
For example, writing summaries for a college assignment may require you to summarize a work of fiction in less than five sentences.
If there are no given rules for your summary, then it’s up to you how many sentences you include.
Still, there are some basic rules for summary writing that you must not ignore.
For example, a summary should never be longer than the original text. That may sound obvious, but within that rule lies the challenge of summary writing.
One may be tasked with summarizing an academic essay or a book of complex ideas.
If one is to try to cover everything the book or essay offers, they may end up writing pages and pages of material.
The challenge in summary writing is covering it in just a few sentences or short paragraphs to give the reader a sense of the original piece.
Can a summary be three sentences?
Some summaries are only three sentences in length.
You must cover the main points in around fifty to sixty words for such a summary. That means that whatever text you’re summarizing should only have one or two main points.
These points should follow the opening topic sentence and give the reader a basic idea of what the text is about.
Take note that three sentences is an incredibly short summary and are not usually appropriate for texts covering several complex thoughts and ideas.
Here are some examples:
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy (in three sentences)
The compound effect is a lifestyle strategy with which you reap significant rewards from consistent small but significant actions.
By measuring your productivity or achievements, you can better understand your progress and how to move forward effectively.
Finally, the compound teaches us to be brave enough to practice personal accountability for everything we do.
Free Will by Sam Harris (in three sentences)
We think we have free will to choose the direction of our lives, but do we?
We do have the power to make conscious choices based on thoughts, needs, and desires, but external influences often determine those thoughts, needs, and desires.
As such, one might think they have free will but are operating from a conditioned mindset.
How many paragraphs in a summary?
Writing a summary in paragraph form (as opposed to bullet points) typically consists of one paragraph, between three and eight sentences.
This summary paragraph contains all the key points and supporting ideas within the original work, or at least as many points as are relevant to the text and are important enough to be included in the summary.
Again, there are different types of summaries.
A high school English assignment summary will typically be shorter and simpler than the summary of a university thesis.
Still, whether those sentences are short or long, simple or complex, three to eight within a paragraph is a good length to aim for.
Some summaries will be longer than one paragraph.
If a piece of text is incredibly detailed and complex, and a shorter summary may fail to summarize the text, then more paragraphs are appropriate.
When do you need to write a summary?
A summary helps a reader gain a sense of understanding of a book, article, essay, piece of music, film, or any other piece of art or writing.
They cover the main points and topics explored in the text or piece and give the reader an overall outline. However, summaries aren’t just for readers.
Your ability to summarize the main points and aims of a text demonstrates your understanding of it.
As such, students and researchers also need to know the basics of summary writing and how to create one that makes an impact.
Unlike creative writing, a summary has less room for play and exploration.
How to write a good summary
While summaries vary in length, purpose, and type, there are still some primary considerations to keep in mind if you want to write a good one.
Below we’ve included a bulleted list of the most important considerations to keep in mind regarding summary writing.
1. Read the text
Needless to say, you have to read the text carefully if you want to summarize it.
Scan it for its many points, read it all the way through, then scan again to remind yourself of those main points and supporting ideas.
2. Divide the text into sections
Break down the text into separate sections, either by paragraph or topics. Doing so will not only help you better understand the text but will also help you structure your summary.
3. Identify the key points
Once your text is separated into sections, identify the key points within those sections.
What is the author saying, and how do they support those claims? What questions do they ask, and what solutions do they offer?
4. Write it down
Once you’ve read the text, divided it, and identified its key points, it’s time to write your summary.
This is a re-telling of the key points and topic in your own words, which means that your summary needs to be original. Plagiarism is a no-no.
You cannot claim another published summary of that text as your own, and you can’t use exact phrases and sentences used by the author of the original text.
You must also write your summary in the present tense. For example, instead of saying something like:
‘The author made two important points on this topic. First,..’
You would write:
‘The author makes two important points on this topic. First,..’
Another tip – use clear transition words. For example, ‘First, the author introduces us to the problem. Second, he proposes a solution. Next, he explains his methods of research. Finally, he explores the meaning and potential of his findings.
5. Compare to the original
With a completed summary, read the article or scan the text once again and ensure everything lines up.
Have you covered the main points? Have you included all of the essential information?
Is it concise and easy to read? Have you accurately represented the author’s main points and ideas without plagiarizing them?
Summaries of famous texts
Below we’ve included some examples of summaries of famous texts.
You’ll understand how a summary works by reading the examples if you already know the reference.
If you don’t already know the reference, you’ll still gain a basic understanding of the reference text because that’s what summaries do.
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
A young Danish prince discovers that his uncle and mother are responsible for his father’s death, the former King. Overcome with the need to avenge his father, he becomes obsessive, ultimately driving his lover Ophelia to suicide. Still, on his path of vengeance, he kills Ophelia’s innocent father, eventually causes his mother’s death, and kills his uncle, finally avenging his father.
It contains a lot of information in just a few sentences yet is simple and concise enough to make an impact without confusing the reader.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in Maycomb, Alabama, in the early twentieth century and is narrated by six-year-old Scout French. The story follows the trial of Tom Robinson, an African American accused of rape, and his defender Atticus Finch, son of Scout, the narrator. Despite Atticus’ best efforts. Tom Robinson is wrongfully convicted. This is a story of racial prejudice and how the younger characters in the story mature.
Again, the summary above offers an overall bird’s eye view of the story. Reading the story itself has much to be gained, but one understands its premise before opening the first page.
A well-written summary summarizes the key points made and explored within a text.
When it comes to excellent summary writing, the best are those that help the reader understand the main points enough so that they don’t have to read the entire text. A good summary explains the text enough, so the reader knows where to look (helping them stay focused) as they read the original text.