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The Easy Way to Write a Short Summary

HubNuggets Nominee - April 13 - 18

This hub has been nominated for a HubNuggets Award for the week of April 13 - 18.

Young woman reading.

Young woman reading.

The 5 W's

Students of all ages, and even Hubbers, are often asked to write summaries. For some teachers this seems to be the hardest writing task to teach. The text books say about summary writing, "Include what's important." This is a circular answer if ever I saw one. Elementary students, especially, don't know what's important. They often have trouble distinguishing the main ideas from the details and the examples.

So -- this is what's important: who, what, when, where, why (and sometimes how).


The who refers to the people who are involved and is usually the subject of the sentence. For example, if you read an article about Albert Einstein and the theory of relativity. Einstein is the who. If you are summarizing a piece of fiction, you must distinguished between the main characters and the minor characters, the protagonist and the antagonist. Who is most of the story about? Who appears on almost all the pages?


The what is normally the direct object in a sentence and is the subject of the article or essay being summarized. In fiction, the what can mean "what happens." When in doubt, look at the title of the selection; it will frequently give you a clue as to the what.


When can be as specific as 2:05am on Saturday, the 25th of February, 2012 or as general as "Once upon a time,..." The when is almost always found in the first paragraph of an article or story. Sometimes the author will intentionally keep the when hazy: " On a cold winter's evening..." This is especially true in fiction when the author is encouraging imaginative access to the story.


The where is vitally important in some stories and in newspaper articles, often of little or no consequence in some writing, such as writing up a scientific experiment in a classroom. Like the when, the where can be as specific as "In the living room of a small house at No. 15 St. Charles Street, in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the USA,..." or as vague as "A place where dreams come true..."

(A note: For some reason I have never discovered, many elementary children confuse when and where. Or, at least, the words don't trigger the appropriate information in their heads. This exercise will be very helpful to them.)


The hardest of the W's for most children to answer. This is often equated in discussing fiction with the theme or the underlying meaning. I had a high school student once who thought I must have the answer to the why in the teacher's edition of the literature book, because he could never quite figure it out. So, one day before I had a chance to ask him "why?", he asked me, "What is the deep, dark, underlying meaning of this work?" As there can be many why's to a complex piece of writing. this makes discussing literature not only interesting, but also important in building a child's imagination and critical thinking skills.

The Super Sentence

One of the exercises I use to help students look for and use these 5 w's in their writing I call the Super Sentence. I will give them a topic, such as Christmas holidays and ask them to write a Super Sentence about it: they must include who, what, when, where and why in one sentence. Most of them will look dazed at first, and then you will see a few heads go down and pencils start moving across the page. The results will be something like this: "We are going to my grandmother's house and eat turkey and we are going on December 25 and that's Christmas day."

With some modeling and very little practice almost all of them can produce sentences like the following in one or two practice sessions: On December 25th, my family and I are going to my grandmother's house for a turkey dinner because it is Christmas Day.

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The when is best placed at the beginning in a prepositional phrase; the who should be a noun, not a pronoun at the first mention; the where comes after the verb also in a prepositional phrase, the what can be either prepositional or it can be the direct object; and the why is easiest put in a subordinate clause starting with "because."

Try It

The next time you are in need of writing a quick summary or your child has homework to do that requires summarizing, try the 5 w's and the super sentence and see how it works for you.


Esha on November 24, 2015:

Heyyy.. Thank u so much for sharing... well I have a exam tomorrow to write a summary.. truly I never understood it but thanks☺☺☺ hope it will help and yup pray for me new friend.

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on November 22, 2012:

Thanks, sweetie1, glad this helped.

sweetie1 from India on November 22, 2012:

Sandra, i would always just copy first few sentences and put them in summary. Now I understand how to do it. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and voted it up.

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on November 22, 2012:

Thanks, rajan and DDE, glad this is useful. Enjoy.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 21, 2012:

Brilliantly explained thanks for sharing your great ideas

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on November 21, 2012:

Sandra, thanks for this reminder. These 5 w's were taught to us in school long long back and not having used it I almost forgot about it. Nice to be reminded as writing a summary is one of the jobs for all hubbers.

Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.

Olde Cashmere on June 30, 2012:

This can help every writer who wishes to improve their sentence structures. Thank you sandrabusby for an informative and helpful hub. Voted up, useful, interesting, and awesome.

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on June 26, 2012:

Thanks, anusujlth, I used this with kids and I hope it works well for you.

Anoop Aravind A from Nilambur, Kerala, India on June 26, 2012:

Pretty informative... I was not a good summary writer... Now onward I can ensure to write it...

editorsupremo from London, England on June 26, 2012:

Excellent hub. I wish I had this advice when I was at school. I hated it when a teacher told the class to summarize a 2000 word essay into 200 words. I always found myself going over the word count because I would think 'that's important' 'oh but that's a good point to put in too'. But after years of errors and re-writing I'm quite a dab hand at summarizing,even if I say so myself. Oh I do go on; I'll stop now! I think that's less than 200 words!

Voted up and shared.


Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on June 16, 2012:

Thanks so much for your visit and kind comments.

C E Clark from North Texas on June 16, 2012:

This is a great hub that should be helpful to lots of people. I have always written summaries for my hubs, and it's never been a problem, but I have noted that some people don't seem comfortable writing summaries. Here on hubpages, summaries can be helpful with Google so that they know where to rank you. Your summary will assure as much as anything can, that your hub comes up when certain keywords and questions are put in the Google search box. Voting you useful!

Anju Agarwal from India on May 14, 2012:

I always feel uncomfortable myself to make summary of any article. You have made it easy by this article with your 5 w's magic. Thanks so much.

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 15, 2012:

Thanks, ripplemaker, I appreciate you and all that you add to hubpages.

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on April 15, 2012:

Very practical and helpful tip sandrabusby. Thank you for this. :)

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! No summaries needed to read and vote (grins) this way

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 14, 2012:

Thanks, Pamela. Yes, it's always nice to discover that some of the things we learned in school are useful in the real world. I appreciate you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 14, 2012:

I remember learning the 5 W's in school and using them in a short summary is good advice. Thanks.

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 13, 2012:

Well, thanks, Jl. If that's the only thing that confuses you about writing, I'd say you were in better shape than most. Thanks for stopping by.

James Bowden from Long Island, New York on April 13, 2012:

Very useful tips on using the five W's in summaries and in other types of writing. What comes to mind for me, when I review when and where to place information in an article, is the words then and than. For me I always get a bit confused of when and where to use then and than. However even the best of writers make mistakes, that is why there are articles like yours to keep us all on our toes! Very useful article which I voted up as well.


Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 13, 2012:

Thanks, Lydia. Hope you'll vote in the HubNuggest awards this week.

Lydia Jones from U.K. on April 13, 2012:

Useful hub, thanks!

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 03, 2012:

Great idea, I hadn't thought of that. Thanks.

BlissfulWriter on April 02, 2012:

That's a great tip for writing summaries for my Hubs that I will need to try out. I still have quite a few hubs without summaries.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on March 28, 2012:

Great tips not only for the students but for me as a hubber. Thanks for SHARING.

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on March 23, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. Sandra Busby

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 23, 2012:

What excellent suggestions, not just for students, but for hubbers who have to put their own summaries into their hubs. Voting this Up and Useful.

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on March 11, 2012:

eolikes, I see you are new to hubpages. Thanks for stopping by my hub on summary writing. I'll check out your first hub later today. It's a great community; hope you enjoy it. Sandra Busby

eolikes from Bangladesh on March 11, 2012:

useful hub.. Thanks for ur help.. Voted up. Have a good day

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on March 11, 2012:

Thanks. I'm an exposition writer myself, and this works well; but I think based on my work as a consultant in the schools, that it also works with fiction. I'm very interested in your hubs, especially about women and India. Keep up the good work. Sandra Busby

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on March 11, 2012:

I write stories and have published few on hubpages. Writing summary can be difficult because it looks harder to summarize a long story in few sentences. These tips on 5 W are really useful and informative.

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on February 27, 2012:

Went straight to your blog on the levels of consciousness. We have many interests in common. I'll be following your hubs. Thanks. Sandra Busby

biancaalice from Southern California on February 26, 2012:

Great tips! Thanks so much for the help!

Voted up & useful!

Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on February 26, 2012:

Thanks, joanwz, it is a technique too often overlooked by teachers who are so busy. Sandra Busby

Joan Whetzel on February 26, 2012:

This is wonderful. Haven't thought about 5 w's in quite awhile.

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