In short, the best way to improve your summarizing is to practise as much as you can, with a variety of texts and topics. The more you practise, the easier it will become and, like every skill you master, it will be difficult to picture how you could not do it. Until that time, we’ve put together a quick list to help you become better at summarizing.
- Pick only the important points. Often, summarizing and retelling are used as synonyms, but they are very different things. Consider retelling a fairy tale like Little Red Riding Hood. Depending on which version you choose, you can spend a lot of time retelling what happened. Now, how about summarizing the story in a few sentences? There are a lot of things you would need to remove and only provide broad points: “A little girl met a wolf while on her way to visit her grandmother. The wolf arrived at the grandmother’s house first and ate the grandmother and the little girl. A hunter found the wolf and saved both of them.”
- You will not be able to provide all of the details you want to when summarizing. You should think about summarizing as providing the most important points (or only the details that are relevant to what you are discussing). For example, if you are not going to be discussing Little Red Riding Hood’s departure from the path to pick flowers for her grandmother, you can leave it out of your summary.
- Ask someone to read your work and provide tips on what you can remove. You can also read our blog post on how to lower your wordcount here.
- Do not repeat yourself. The whole point of a summary is to provide a brief overview of the main points. Repeating yourself is not summarizing. Say it once.
A peer, family member or tutor can help you with your summarizing.
- Start small. Start by summarizing a paragraph. Then move on to a chapter, a novel, and so on.
- Try to summarize different types of works. For example, summarize an episode of a TV series or podcast, a short story, a novel, a play. When you are feeling more confident, try to summarize groups. For example, summarize a whole series, a collection of short stories (they often have an overarching theme), etc.
- Do not just use AI or a website to summarize for you. It can be tempting with the proliferation of artificial intelligence to have it summarize a piece of text for you, but it is a skill you should have. During tests or exams, you will not be able to use AI to help you. Not to mention that AI is not always correct.
Summarizing is not an easy concept to learn. It will take time and practise, but it is very important to learn, not just in academia. Being able to summarize can be helpful in your career (think hundreds of emails, presentations, webinars, etc.). Learning to do it at school can save you a lot of time and effort later in life.
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