Table of Content:

Types of Summary: Key Features, Examples, and Uses

Types of Summary: Key Features, Examples, and Uses

Types of Summary: Key Features, Examples, and Uses

Summaries can be categorized based on their purpose, length, and the approach used to shorten the original content. 

Below are the main types of summaries:

  • Narrative Summary
  • Informative Summary
  • Executive Summary
  • Abstract
  • Thematic Summary
  • Critical Summary
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Synoptic Summary (or Synthesis)
  • Précis
  • Outline

Let's discuss each type in details,

Narrative Summary

“A narrative summary is a way to condense a story (real or fictional) into a shorter form.”

Narrative summaries focus on the core events, maintaining a sense of the original narrative flow. 

Key Features:

  • Concise: Focuses on essential plot points and character actions.
  • Chronological: Maintains the flow of events from beginning to end.
  • Tells, more than shows: Often uses direct statements rather than extensive dialogue or scene descriptions.

Examples of Narrative Summary

Summarizing books and novels: For "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a narrative summary might be like this; 

“Nick Carraway, moves to New York in the 1920s, meets the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, and becomes embroiled in Gatsby's obsession with rekindling a past romance with Daisy Buchanan, leading to tragedy.”

Short Stories: For Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", a narrative summary would highlight the narrator's descent into madness as he murders an old man and is eventually driven to confess by the imagined sound of the victim's still-beating heart.


  • Back Cover Descriptions: To hook readers and provide a gist of a book or movie without spoilers.
  • Writing Research Narrative Summaries: In research studies, to provide context for participant experiences
  • Literary/Film Analysis: To focus on core events before offering interpretation.
  • Readers and Viewers: Looking for quick insights into a story before diving in.

For more information read these guidelines.

Informative Summary

“An informative summary presents the most important facts and ideas from a source text in a neutral and objective manner.”

 It avoids adding personal opinions, analysis, or commentary.

Key Features:

  • Concise: Focuses only on main points.
  • Objective: Present information without bias
  • Clear & Coherent: Maintains the logic and structure of the source text

Examples of Informative Summary

Research Papers: An informative summary of a research paper might include the study's purpose, methodology, key findings, and conclusions. 

For example, a summary of a study on climate change could outline the research methods used to collect data, the data indicating a rise in global temperatures, and the researchers' conclusions about the impact of human activity on climate change.

News Articles: For a news article about a political event, an informative summary would include the event's date, location, the main parties involved, the outcomes, and any significant implications or reactions. It avoids editorializing or offering opinions about the events.

Business Reports: A business report on a company's quarterly earnings might be summarized to highlight the total revenue, profit or loss, significant expenditures, and future outlook based on the report's data. 


  • Quickly understanding research: It helps researchers find pertinent studies on specific topics.
  • Summarizing news: It offers neutral overviews of events, without commentary.
  • Creating Study Notes: Students can make informative summaries to help them remember key concepts.

More guidelines on How to write an informative summary

Executive Summary

“An executive summary is a high-level overview of a business document such as a report, plan, or proposal.”

It is primarily targeted at busy decision-makers who need the essential information and key takeaways to make informed choices.

Examples of Executive Summary

Business Plans: For a startup seeking investment, the executive summary would include the business idea, market analysis, unique value proposition, business model, financial projections, and the funding request. 

Annual Reports: In an annual report of a corporation, the executive summary highlights key financial data, achievements, challenges faced during the year, and future outlook, providing shareholders and stakeholders with a snapshot of the company's performance and strategic direction.


  • Decision Making: Enables executives, and potential investors to quickly understand the document's key points for decision-making.
  • Securing Funding: Compelling potential investors with a focused summary of a business plan.
  • Project Proposals: Highlighting the purpose, objectives, and deliverables for stakeholders

You can also check Hubspot’s guidelines for more examples and details. 


“An abstract is a succinct and self-contained summary of a larger work”

It is usually generated for a research paper, thesis, or dissertation.

Key Features of an Abstract:

  • Brief: Around 150-300 words.
  • Informative: Includes the research purpose, methods, results, and conclusions.
  • Stand-alone: This can be understood without reading the full research paper.

(For detailed features of an abstract check: Features of a good abstract by

Examples of Abstract

Here is an example of an abstract,

"This study examined the impact of social media usage on sleep patterns in adolescents. Participants (n=200) completed a survey on their social media habits and wore sleep trackers for one week. Results revealed a significant negative correlation between screen time before bed and sleep duration. Findings suggest that limiting social media usage close to bedtime could improve sleep quality in adolescents."


  • Research Discovery: Abstracts help researchers quickly determine if a paper is relevant to their field of study.
  • Conference Submissions: Abstracts are a key part of the review process for academic conferences.
  • Summarizing Findings: Abstracts are often published along with research papers to succinctly communicate the study's outcomes.

You can also check guide on “Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper” by University of Wisconsin:

Thematic Summary

“A thematic summary focuses on identifying and succinctly describing the main themes within a work (literary, film, research, etc.). ”

Key Features of a Thematic Summary

  • Interpretive: Analyzes connections and patterns within the work to identify key themes.
  • Insightful: Goes beyond straightforward description to reveal deeper meanings.
  • Thesis-Driven: Often begins with a thesis statement about the major themes.

(A detailed guide on Thematic Summary

Examples of Thematic Summary

Text: The classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Thematic Summary Example: “This novel explores themes of prejudice, injustice, and the loss of innocence. Through the eyes of a young girl, Scout Finch, readers witness racial discrimination in her small-town community. The story also highlights the importance of empathy and standing up for what's right, even in the face of societal pressure.”

More Template and examples:


  • Educational Settings: Teachers and students use thematic summaries to analyze and discuss the deeper meanings of a text.
  • Film Studies: Analyzing films to understand their messaging and broader significance.
  • Qualitative Research: Identifying recurring themes within interview data or observations.

Useful resources:

For students: How to Write a Theme Statement

For Novelist:

Critical Summary

“A critical summary goes beyond simply restating information. It involves analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating the content of a source. ”

Key Features:

  • Analytical: Examines the strengths and weaknesses of the source.
  • Evaluative: Offers judgments about the quality and validity of the work.
  • Insightful: Connects ideas from the source to broader contexts or other literature.

Examples of Critical Summary:

Source: An article claiming a causal link between video games and youth violence.

Critical Summary: "The article asserts a direct link between video game exposure and violent behavior in adolescents. However, the research cited offers only correlational data, failing to establish true causation. Moreover, the author disregards studies finding no significant connection between the two. This article presents a potentially biased viewpoint that requires further scrutiny."


  • Policy Analysis and Development: Policy analysts and advocates use critical summaries to assess the strengths and weaknesses of policy reports.
  • Professional Development and Learning: In professional fields, critical summaries of case studies and business strategies help practitioners understand new developments in their industry.

Check this guide for Writing Critical Summaries, by 

Descriptive Summary

“A descriptive summary provides a neutral overview of a source, outlining its main points, features, or structure.”

Note: It avoids personal opinions or evaluations. Think of it as a high-level description of what the work is rather than what you think of it.

Key Features of Descriptive Summary:

  • Objective: Presents information without bias or analysis.
  • Concise: Focuses on the most important features of the source.
  • Informative: Helps the reader understand the source's main ideas and structure.

Examples of Descriptive Summary

Here are some examples:

Product Reviews: In a descriptive summary of a new smartphone model, the focus would be on the phone's specifications (e.g., screen size, battery life, camera quality), features (e.g., waterproof, facial recognition), and available colors and storage options, rather than evaluating its performance or value for money.

Movie or Novel: 

A novel divided into several sections from different character perspectives.

Descriptive Summary: "The novel employs a multi-perspective narrative structure, with each chapter shifting from the viewpoint of a different main character. This technique reveals the diverse motivations and interpretations of events within the story. Chapters are organized chronologically, building toward a dramatic climax."


  • Book/Movie Reviews: Descriptive summaries provide the basic plot or background information before offering subjective analysis.
  • Annotations: In bibliographies, short descriptive summaries give context to cited works.
  • Summarizing Complex Concepts: A descriptive summary can break down the structure of a research study or theoretical argument.

Synoptic Summary (or Synthesis)

“A synoptic summary, sometimes simply called a synthesis, draws connections between multiple sources to present a holistic overview of a topic.”

(For detailed definition, check this)

Key Features:

  • Comparative: Analyzes similarities and differences across sources.
  • Integrative: Combines viewpoints from multiple sources to establish a nuanced understanding of the topic.
  • Insightful: Identifies trends, patterns, or areas of debate within the broader literature.

Examples of Synoptic Summary (or Synthesis)

Topic: The effects of social media on mental health

Synoptic Summary: "Research investigating the relationship between social media use and mental health presents a complex picture. Some studies suggest a positive correlation with symptoms of anxiety and depression, particularly among young people. Conversely, other studies reveal potential benefits of social media for building connections and accessing support groups. Overall, the impact of social media on mental health appears to be highly individual and reliant on factors such as platform usage patterns and self-comparison tendencies."


  • Literature Reviews: Synoptic summaries are critical components of literature review sections in research papers, as they synthesize previous findings and establish a foundation for new research.
  • Meta-analysis: Used to pool data from related studies when aiming to make strong statistical conclusions about a research topic.
  • Thematic Exploration: A synoptic summary can help students and scholars examine how a theme like love, justice, or heroism is reflected across diverse literary works.


“A précis is an extremely concise summary focusing on the absolute essentials of a text.”

It maintains the original work's logic and order while drastically reducing the word count. 

Key Features

  • Highly Condensed: Often one-quarter the length of the original text or less.
  • Objective: Sticks to essential ideas without judgment or commentary.
  • Precise: Uses careful phrasing to maintain the tone and flow of the original despite brevity.

Example of Précis

Academic Article: A précis of an academic article on climate change might summarize the research question, the methodology used (e.g., analysis of temperature records over the past century), the key findings (e.g., a significant increase in global temperatures), and the implications of the study, all without providing additional commentary or analysis.

Historical Document: For a document like "The Declaration of Independence," a précis would succinctly summarize the historical context, the main grievances against the British crown, the philosophical underpinnings of the document (e.g., natural rights philosophy), and the declaration's conclusion, focusing on the essence and tone of the original.

Literary Work: A précis of a novel like "Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville would outline the central narrative (Captain Ahab's obsessive quest to hunt the white whale, Moby-Dick), the key themes (obsession, revenge, the struggle against nature), and the narrative style, without delving into plot details or character analysis outside those core elements.


“An outline is a structured tool used to organize ideas and information in a hierarchical way.”

Outlines typically use bullet points or numbers to indicate different levels of information hierarchy, such as main topics, subtopics, and details.

Key Features of Outline

  • Hierarchical: Shows the order of ideas from broad concepts to specific details.
  • Organized: Presents information in a clear and logical way.
  • Flexible: Can be simple or complex, depending on the needs of a project.


Research Paper Outline: For a research paper on the effects of social media on mental health, an outline might include:

  • Introduction: Thesis statement
  • Literature Review: Summary of existing research
  • Methodology: Description of research methods used
  • Results: Presentation of findings
  • Discussion: Interpretation of results
  • Conclusion: Summary of findings and implications for future research
  • References: List of sources cited

Book Outline: An author writing a novel might create an outline with chapters as main headings and bullet points for key events, character developments, and plot twists to ensure the narrative flows logically and cohesively.

Presentation Outline: For a business presentation on marketing strategies, an outline might include sections like:

  • Introduction: Overview of the marketing landscape
  • Current Strategy: Analysis of the current marketing strategy
  • Proposed Strategy: Detailed plan for new strategies
  • Implementation: Steps for putting the new strategy into action
  • Conclusion: Summary and call to action

Uses of Outlines

  • Writing: Outlines help guide the structure of essays, research papers, and reports ensuring organized presentation and development of ideas.
  • Studying: Outlines condense study material into smaller chunks, simplifying the review process.
  • Presentations: Outlining main points and supporting details makes for more logical and effective presentations.
  • Project Planning: Outlines break down complex projects into manageable steps, clarifying scope and timeline.

Useful Resources:

Key Differences & Main Users

Here's a table that breaks down the key differences between the types of summaries, along with their main users.

Summary Type

Key Differences

Main Users

Narrative Summary

Focuses on recounting the story or main narrative of works like novels, films, etc., highlighting plot, characters, and events.

Authors, publishers, educators, students

Informative Summary

Presents essential information, arguments, and findings without personal opinion or detailed analysis.

Researchers, students, professionals

Executive Summary

Provides a concise overview of a longer document for decision-makers, highlighting main points, conclusions, and recommendations.

Executives, managers, investors


A brief summary of a research paper or scholarly article, including purpose, methodology, results, and conclusions.

Academics, scientists, researchers

Thematic Summary

Concentrates on the underlying themes or messages within a text, rather than the specifics of the narrative or arguments.

Educators, literary critics, students

Critical Summary

Combines summary with critique, evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, and significance of the text.

Academics, students, critics

Descriptive Summary

Offers a detailed description of the content's main points without incorporating analysis or interpretation.

Librarians, content managers, educators

Synoptic Summary (or Synthesis)

Integrates key points from multiple sources, identifying patterns, contradictions, and gaps in literature or research.

Researchers, policy analysts, educators


A concise restatement of a text's main points, including arguments and conclusions, without critique or personal input, maintaining the original tone and emphasis.

Students, academics, professionals


A structured plan or framework for a piece of writing or project, organizing main ideas and supporting details hierarchically.

Writers, students, researchers, project managers


Useful Resources & References:

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