Reading Time: 2 minutes

Being thorough is not always the way to go. The ability to identify and summarize the most essential points is much better.

Most people do not know how to effectively summarize information into relevant and digestible chunks.

In my doctoral coursework we were always assigned chapter summaries. Each member of our cohort would be assigned a chapter in the book to summarize and present to the class.

This was a great strategy for our professors to have us ‘read’ multiple books each semester. I loved the divide and conquer mentality.

What I did not love was listening to a “summary” of chapter 6 was longer than the actual chapter 6.

Spending an hour listening to someone else’s summary when I could have read the chapter myself in 30 minutes was very frustrating. It also defeated the purpose.

Most people do not understand what it really means to summarize something. They want to be thorough and make sure to include all of the details.

Their thoroughness is not a good thing.

A summary is on overview of the essential pieces of information. It is not the specifics.

Think of a summary as describing the forest, not the individual trees.

When summarizing something, ask yourself what one single bit of information is the most important. If you only have 30 seconds to explain something, what would it be.

After you select the most important detail, repeat that thought process 3 or 4 more times to come up with the 3 – 5 most important parts.

This is your summary. A great summary gives the reader or listener enough information to understand the point. It also leaves the reader with a few questions of their own.

It provides them with an image of the forest, but not a picture of the trees.

The only way to get better at summarizing is to practice.

You can start today by trimming this article down to a summary you can tweet. Tag me when you do – @YanceySanderson

If you enjoyed this post, sign up for The Opposite Project to get more like this sent to your inbox each week.