Writing an Objective Summary of a Story

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  • 0:01 Secret Techniques
  • 0:34 Learn the Terms
  • 1:10 Step-by-Step
  • 2:36 Summary of The Tell-Tale Heart
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

In this lesson, you'll learn exactly what teachers mean when they ask for an objective summary, and you'll learn how to write one as well. Finally, you can test your understanding with a short quiz.

Secret Techniques

The eighth grade English Language Arts standards state that you should be able to figure out the themes of a piece of literature, but they also state that you should be able to provide an objective summary of a text. For one standard, these are two really different ideas! It's one thing to figure out the main points of a piece of writing, and that can be tricky when it's a story, but it's another thing entirely to summarize the same story. And you have to balance both to master the standard! Lucky for you, there's a technique to it, and I'm going to teach it to you.

Learn the Terms

Let's take a story that lots of eighth graders read, 'The Tell-Tale Heart' by Edgar Allan Poe. Let's say your teacher is asking for an objective summary of the story. First things first, we've got to break down the basic terminology.

Objective means non-biased. In other words, you want to tell the story like it is, without adding your own opinions. And a summary is just a shortened retelling of the important parts of the story. The story is over 2,000 words long, but if you summarize it, you need to cook it down to a single paragraph of five sentences or less.


Now that you know the terms, let's take this step-by-step.

Step 1: Read the story. Hey, if you were looking for a way to write a summary without even reading the story, sorry, but you're out of luck. You've got to read it to be able to summarize it.

Step 2: Ask yourself, 'What are the important parts of the story?' Notice I didn't say 'the interesting parts' of the story. When I read 'The Tell-Tale Heart' I find it really interesting that the narrator sneaks into the old man's room and watches him sleep for eight nights in a row. That might be a neat fact, but it's only really important that he sneaks in and kills the old man, not that he tries eight times before he gets up the nerve.

Step 3: Make sure that the ideas you listed are the important ones, not minor details before you go to step four.

Step 4: Put your parts in the correct order from first to last, and then paraphrase them, or put the events in your own words, so that you get the whole idea across in about five sentences. Also important to note: you have probably been practicing citing textual evidence or quoting the story. That's an important skill, but here's one time when you won't use it. Instead, make sure you put the events in your own words.

Step 5: Make sure that you're listing the factual events and not tossing in your opinions.

I'll show you an example by breaking down Poe's story.

Summary of the Tell-Tale Heart

Here are the important parts, not minor details or sections that I just find interesting.

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