Differences Between Summary and Synopsis


Whenever you need to summarize any kind of document into a more concise form, then you would have to organize the information into a summary or a synopsis. There are a number of different forms a summary might take, such as an executive summary, to name one example. No matter the subject or information being summarized, it is possible to summarize the information for ease of perusal.

That being said, it is not quite right to say that summaries and synopses are quite the same things. While you can say that they are both documents that condense a more complete and detailed document into something smaller, there are some design elements that can serve to make them more distinct from each other. this is visible in some examples you may have encountered such as sample project summaries.

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Characteristics of summaries

In order to differentiate these two kinds of documents template, it might help to be able to compare them in terms of some of their characteristics. This can help give a more in-depth understanding of each kind of document.

Condenses a body of material

At its simplest, a summary is meant to be a very basic condensation of a longer, more detailed body of work. You can think of a summary as a reduction of a long document into something more bite-sized in that you can get the essence of the data contained in that larger document in a matter of sentences. This can be for a number of different purposes such as to provide a basic description of the larger work in question or to serve as an introduction of that work to readers.


Since summaries are so simple, they are fairly basic in that they only provide the barest information that can be known about a given subject. It is not a summary’s job to provide in-depth details, so if you want to know about the written work as a whole, then a summary would be a good tool to understand it without needing to know the details or jargon.

Can apply to literary, corporate, scientific, or academic works

You may have encountered summaries being used in settings such as literature, particularly if you needed to condense a work into a very concise piece. This can be seen in the case of things like book blurbs. However, you can also see summaries being used in other fields such as science and business. In those cases, they usually take the form of abstracts and executive summaries. Their job is usually to introduce readers to the work in a number of sentences that will give them a basic idea of what to expect. As such, you may use sample executive summaries to help you make these if you ever have a need to write such summaries yourself.

Very short, usually only a few paragraphs long

Summaries are generally very short, usually one page long or so. The whole point of a summary is to condense the ideas into something readable within a few minutes, as is the case with sample executive summary templates. In those cases, a few minutes is all that can be spared which is why there is a need for bite-sized written works so that everything can be processed fairly quickly. Most examples of abstracts and executive summaries are generally limited to one page so that readers can be given the most basic information necessary to understand the idea. After all, if readers are interested in details, they can usually read them in a complete report or paper.

Usually in prose form

Many summaries are written in prose form; the better to convey the information as simply as possible. This can take the form of paragraphs or bullet points. Regardless of the details, summaries generally only use words to convey the basic ideas they want to deal with.

Characteristics of synopses

It is also necessary to understand some of the basic features of a synopsis. While some might argue that there is at least some measure of overlap with a summary, there are enough differences that one could argue that they are very different kinds of documents with rather particular intended uses.

Summarizes major points of a written work

While a synopsis is also a condensation of a larger written work, it does more than just provide a basic description of the work in question. A synopsis is able to sum up a written work’s major points, such as the plot, themes, ideas, etc.

Fairly detailed and technical

Synopses generally tend to have more detail than a summary. This is due to a synopsis’ ability to go into detail concerning a specific written work, as might be the case with a synopsis of a particular written work. This is distinct from a free executive summary in that you can provide more details, particularly for the purpose of analysis.

Usually applied to literary works

Most of the time, synopses are associated with literary works such as books, plays, films, and so on. This is likely due to synopses being able to sum up the subject matter of such works such as the plot, themes, characters, etc. Of course, that is not to say that synopses cannot be used for any other purpose, as there are some project summary templates that can serve as synopses for fields other than literature.

Relatively long, can be up to a few pages in length

Unlike summaries, synopses need not be limited to a number of pages. In spite of the fact that a synopsis is, in its own way, also a summary, it might be more accurate to say that it is short relative to the original written work. That said, rather than copy the original work, it lists and discusses the parts that make up the work, which may take up a few pages to facilitate easier analysis of that particular written work.

May be in prose form or table form

Unlike a summary like a summary report template, it is possible for you to find synopses written in the form of tables, though you can just as easily write your synopsis in prose form. However, if a table might be more appropriate to your work, then you may want to use a synopsis instead. This would allow you to arrange all your ideas into something more direct and straightforward so you could work more easily.

With all these insights, you should have a better understanding of some of the distinctions between a summary and synopsis, which be useful if you ever need to summarize your work and need to know which kind of tool might be better for your purposes.

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