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Guide to Writing Effective Summaries for Book Reports

written by: J Sarah Metzker Erdemir • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 1/5/2012

Writing a summary for a book report can be a daunting task for students, especially for a long book. How can you choose the most important parts of a book to write about without the summary being too long or too short? This article discusses some ways you can prepare, plan, and write a good summary.

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    As soon as you start reading the book, you can begin preparing for the book report. While you read, take notes and underline or highlight passages you think are important. Is there a theme or an idea that comes up again and again? How are the different characters introduced and described? Also make notes of ideas or events in the book that are striking for you because these will be more interesting for you to deal with in your writing.

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    Before you begin writing, make a plan or an outline. A good summary is not just a description of the events in the book. It should include both general and detailed information. Try one or more of these ways to approach the text and plan your writing.

    1. Focus on one particular character, and discuss the events in the story as they affect him or her. Or, you can focus on one event and discuss what led up to the event and how it affected the outcome.
    2. Most works of fiction have recurrent themes or images. Discuss a particular theme or image and why you think the author uses it when he or she does.
    3. Choose quotations from the text that you find interesting or relevant and make notes about why the quotations are important. Often when describing quotations you will find your ideas taking shape and coming together, which will help you organize your summary.
    4. Consider your opinions about the book and make notes about characters, events, themes, and images that support your ideas. Whether you liked the book or hated it, if you can give concrete examples about why you felt this way, you will have a stronger summary.
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    Some Tips for Writing the Report

    You’ve read the book, made notes, and come up with a plan. Now it’s time to begin writing. Close the book and put it aside (but keep the citations for quotations you want to use nearby for easy reference). You have less risk of plagiarizing if you aren’t looking at the text as you write your sentences.

    Although an introduction comes first in an essay, it’s usually better to write your introduction last, when you have developed your ideas and focused your summary. An introduction generally starts with a sentence to draw in the reader, but otherwise, essay introductions and conclusions have a lot of similar information.

    Remember to write your summary in the present tense unless your teacher has instructed you otherwise. Present tense is standard for book summaries. Check your essay as you go to make sure the tense is consistent throughout.

    Leave yourself plenty of time to read the book and write the book report. It’s extremely difficult to read and write under pressure, and often you will have ideas about the book and the writing assignment when you are doing something other than studying. Give your brain a chance to plan and process the information, and you’ll find your job is much easier.