Six Simple Steps to a Stellar Summary

A summary seems like it should be easy to write, right?  You just describe what happened in that history chapter or that news article. But many summaries fall prey to one of two common problems: too much information or too little information.

Sometimes the facts just seem to add up until your summary is overflowing with every small detail of what happened, and you can't find the main idea in the sea of information.  On the other hand, you might pick and choose so much among the facts that you end up with only a sparse statement and find you've missed important information that you need to remember later.

How do you write the right amount? You need to paint a "big picture" - a  coherent view of what happened.  In order to do that, you will have to sift through your facts and separate the important ones from the incidental ones.  But that's precisely the problem - which facts are keepers and which ones are extra and should be tossed?

The best way to sort the fact wheat from the fact chaff is to collect them in sets.  Just like Pokemon, it's not enough to trap a few pieces of information in a fact "set" - you gotta catch 'em all!  A set of facts will be related in clear, specific ways.

Your fact sets will be cohesive because they will give the complete story: Who did what, why, and with how much success?  You will be thinking like a collector, so instead of drowning in facts, you'll be focused on finding specific pieces of information that answer the questions of your six steps.  Do you need a fact?  Only if it is part of a full set!  Wondering if that political organization belongs in your summary? It is part of the big picture if you can link it to five matching set members.  Can't do that? Then skip it!  Overwhelmed by tons of dates and places? Those need to be put into full sets as well, otherwise they are meaningless.  With your six steps, you'll be thinking in mini stories instead of in details.  This means you will be fact collecting with purpose and not just loading up your summary with every random piece of information that you read.

Whether you're writing a summary for your own notes or to turn in for an assignment, grouping your data into sets that tell a story will keep you from falling into either the too much or too little trap.  You will be able to judge when you have enough based on complete "sets" of information that contain all six of the required elements.  If a name is floating around all alone in your summary, without its five other elements, you'll know that you have to fill those in.  If all five of the other elements aren't available in the original, you'll know the name is not a keeper because it is not part of the "big picture".


Watch the Write Bite to see the 6 steps in action!