Shorten Your Synopsis Using Word


You know what it’s like: you’ve taken 400 pages to write your novel and it’s bad enough that you had to summarise that into a 10-page synopsis. But now your agent wants a single page synopsis from you!

Believe it or not, good old Word can help you with this dreadful task.

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Automatically summarising a document

MS Word’s AutoSummarise tool picks out the keywords, or most frequently used words, in your text and ranks sentences according to how many of the keywords they contain. Word then uses the higher ranked sentences to create a summary. Unfortunately this means that a summary of fiction will be mainly “he said”, “he said” and the main character’s name repeated several times, but AutoSummarise is ideal for shortening non-fiction, articles, or a synopsis.

Word 2003 : Click on Tools, AutoSummarise… (Click here for Word 2007)

You will note that there are four options for the summary:

1. Highlight key points
2. Executive summary or abstract
3. Summary in a new document
4. Summary only in original document

Of these options, I use the first one (highlighting key points) in two stages if I need to cut a ten-page synopsis down to one page. I first set the AutoSummarise to highlight 50% of the text and study the text that Word has NOT highlighted to check whether I can delete, reword, or edit it in some way. Then, I look at the text that has been highlighted to check whether I’ve repeated myself (as this text has been selected and highlighted based on recurring keywords). Usually I can reword or combine some of the phrases to incorporate points I’ve expanded on later, and cut out entire sentences.

Once I have the text down to five pages and have saved it under a different filename (just in case I need a five-page summary later), I go through the process again, setting it to summarise 25% of the remaining text. I do this in two stages because ten per cent of ten pages doesn’t give you much text to work with and it can be almost as overwhelming as editing without any assistance.

When you’re finished, click Close on the AutoSummarise Toolbar to remove the highlighting. Save your single page synopsis under a different filename for easy reference.

This article was first published on The Blood-Red Pencil. Copyright © Elsa Neal, 2009.

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Word 2007

AutoSummarize has been removed from the standard access features. Word 2007 users must first add this feature to the Quick Access Toolbar above the Office Ribbon as follows:

  • Office Button >> Word Options
  • Customize
  • Under Choose Commands From, select All Commands
  • Select AutoSummary Tools and click Add

To AutoSummarize your synopsis, simply click the new button that you have added above the Office Ribbon. The options are the same as for Word 2003.

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Elle Carter Neal

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and the teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job. Join Elle on her new publishing adventure.