Want to put in some practice time writing summaries? We suggest doing this five-minute exercise. You can do it once a day, twice a day or more — even with just a single daily session, though, it can foster serious improvements in your writing skill set over time.
Pick up a popular broadsheet newspaper in your area. Turn to the editorial pages and look at the stories. Often, the editorials will be introduced by a short summary that distills the entire argument or opinion in 20 to 30 words.
Often, these summaries will open with a statement that grabs attention, like a startling statistic, an interesting fact or a provocative opinion. That way, the reader is quickly hooked in with the promise of something they can actually care about. At the end of the summary, notice how it closes with a transition to the actual editorial. Take note of the various elements of the summary — sentence length, sentence structure, word choice and such.
Doing that should clue you in on what makes good summaries. Take notes if you feel like you need to write down some of your discoveries. Later on, you’ll use them when writing your own summaries.
You can do this for five minutes a day for the first week to prepare you for the actual writing practice.
Summary Writing Practice
The actual practice session goes like this:
- Find a short story in a newspaper, magazine or on the web. Start out with op-ed pieces as that’s what you’re using for basis (i.e. the summaries you reviewed earlier). Later on, as you get more comfortable, you can move on to other types of writing, such as features and stories.
- Read it and write three summaries. Yep, three different ones using different introductions, bodies and endings.
- Read each one aloud. How do they sound? Are they snappy and on-point like the ones in newspapers? Or are they dragging and just a little unclear?
- Just think about that for the remainder of the time. Let it sit in your mind, without you having to think about them consciously.
- The next day, for your next five-minute session, you will write a new summary for the same story. You will finish it, review it, revise it and finalize.
- Do over for the next two days after.
Doing this trains you to write summaries fast — as you did while whipping up those three right after reading the story. However, it also trains you in letting things percolate. The second day, there’s a good chance the best version of the summary will flow right out of you, as the story and the summaries you’ve written for it have all had a chance to sink in.