Summaries can serve a wide variety of purposes, from acting as visual aids for speeches to helping you summarize the material you need to know for a test. The basic principles for writing a summary are fairly simple and don't require any special skill, but the specific formatting of your summary will vary depending upon its purpose.

Bullet-Point Basics

Bullet points are very similar to notes, which means you want to steer clear of complete sentences or long explanations. Instead, your headings should be brief summaries of learning goals or educational concepts. For example, if you're doing a presentation on philosophy, a section on ethics might be one heading. The most important points should go under the heading as bullet points, and if these bullet points require more detail, you can indent further and create a list of sub-bullet points related to the top bullet point.

Ordering Bullet Points

Because each heading is a self-contained topic, you don't necessarily have to put your concepts in a specific order. If you're using bullets for note-taking purposes, you can order them thematically, chronologically or even according to difficulty -- whatever helps you study most effectively. But if you're delivering a presentation, it's better to ensure that your bullet points go in the same order as your presentation to avoid confusing the audience. For example, Inc. recommends that a presentation tell a clear story.


If you're taking notes using bullet points, try using only one side of your paper and double-spacing your notes. This gives you ample room to fill in concepts if you need to add more information. When taking notes, it's better to include too much information than too little, so use abbreviations to pack in information. The McGraw Center for Teaching & Learning at Princeton University recommends putting a question in the margin if you don't understand something or you need to ask about it later.

Presentations and Education

If you're giving a presentation with slides to a class or a group of colleagues, your bullet points should be short and concise. Use bullet points to illustrate challenging concepts or give key vocabulary words rather than as narrative. While your presentation should track your bullet points, you shouldn't read from them or reiterate the information contained in them. Instead, use your bullet points as a starting point for expanding upon information and providing further details.