What is a table of contents

Write a summary

Contents are part of the German lesson like the addition to mathematics. Summaries are an integral part of the curriculum. Contents are regularly the subject of exams and term papers. It's about getting the content of the reading to the point.

What is a table of contents?

A table of contents conveys the essential points of the plot of a book, drama or even a film. It does not go into details. Rather, a good table of contents enables the reader to get an overview of the most important steps.

In addition to the actual summary of the contents, the most important people as well as the place and time of the action are mentioned. Contents are written in a concise report form. The tense is the present tense, i.e. the present tense. Dialogues are reproduced in indirect speech.

Features of a table of contents

In the following we consider the school rules for table of contents. If a table of contents has to be prepared for the German lesson, the following characteristics should be observed. Summaries for other purposes may of course deviate from these guidelines. In actors' guides, on websites or in film magazines, for example, you can definitely find table of contents that contain quotations or have no introduction.

The most important rules for table of contents:

  • Concise and factual language
  • Correct sequence of steps
  • Structure: introduction, main part, conclusion
  • Tense: present tense
  • Own words, no quotes

focus on the essentials

A table of contents is as brief as possible and still conveys all the important content: Who are the main characters? Which steps are relevant? What are the temporal and causal relationships?

Important: A summary is not a retelling! In a good table of contents there are therefore no unnecessary details, embellishments or elements of tension.

Structure of the table of contents

A table of contents usually consists of three components:
  • introduction
  • Bulk
  • Enough

In the introduction the most important facts about the work are mentioned:
Type of text, author, title, place of action, time of action and topic of the text; in addition, the plot is outlined as briefly as possible. Sometimes the introduction is also referred to as a basic sentence or a core sentence.

The main part of the table of contents summarizes the plot of the text. The steps are shown in the correct chronological order. You can find help on how to write the main part further down on this page (»Tips and Techniques«).

In the final part, the effect of the work, possible intentions of the author or linguistic characteristics of the reading can be briefly discussed. Such a conclusion is not always needed; the final part, however, rounds off a good synopsis.

More information: Structure of a table of contents

Objective, sober language

The language of the table of contents is factual and concise; it is independent of the style of the original text. Write in your own words. Avoid evaluations and slang expressions. The sentences should be short and easy to understand.

The right tense

Contents are always written in the present tense.

Example of the correct tense:
Correct: "Dr. Heinrich Faust is a respected scientist [...]. "
Not correct: "Dr. Heinrich Faust was a respected scientist [...]. "

Only when reference is made to previous events within the action, then one reproduces this event in the past tense of the perfect.

Correct order

All action steps are shown in the correct chronological (time-ordered) order.

Own words, no quotes

A summary should never be copied from the original text. Contents (according to school rules) do not contain any quotations. If a certain statement is very important for the action, direct speech is converted into indirect speech.

Your own words should be sober and factual. Colloquial expressions and general places are completely dispensed with.

The right length

A table of contents is always much shorter than the original text. At the same time, no general statements can be made about the perfect length. On the one hand, the required scope of a table of contents naturally depends on the length of the original text; on the other hand, the information density of the work to be summarized also plays a role. Thirdly, the respective requirement for the table of contents must be observed. For example, the task of a German teacher can be that the students do not write more than one A4 page.

That doesn't belong in a table of contents

You should avoid this in the summary:
  • Minor details
  • Linguistic embellishments
  • Examples
  • Quotes
  • Direct speech
  • Your personal opinion
  • Analyzes and Interpretations *

*) In the final part, possible statements or literary motives can be briefly discussed. In the main part of the table of contents, however, interpretations are not permitted.

How to write a synopsis

Tips and techniques for writing a synopsisThe following advice and working techniques have proven effective when summarizing text sources. The individual tips are also suitable as an exercise in preparing table of contents.

1. Markings in the text

Markings in the text help with complicated texts: Mark off the most important events as well as names and places in the text. This will help you to find relevant passages later when you skim through the text again.

2. Headings for text sections

Headings are also helpful, with which you (depending on the length of the original text to be summarized) provide individual paragraphs, pages or chapters. Make the headings as appropriate as possible: Who does what? What is happening where and why?

3. Start with key words

It is a great help to first note down the most important facts and the course of action.

A table of contents, written in bullet points, helps you to get an overview of the content of the reading. Now it becomes clearer which superfluous details can be omitted in the summary.

Once the framework is ready in the form of bullet points, the table of contents can be formulated in the next step.

4. Answers to the most important W-questions

The following questions (when? Where? Who? What? Why?) Are helpful in summarizing the plot. Of course, not all questions have to be answered (in detail); rather, they are intended to serve as a guide.

When does the action play?

  • In what year does something happen?
  • At what time of the day or time of year?
  • In what period of time does a certain action take place?

Where does the action play?

  • Which places are relevant to the story?
  • What are the locations?

who are the most important people in the act?

  • Which people play an important role?
  • Who are the main and minor characters?
  • What is the relationship between the characters?

What happens?

  • What is the core of the plot?
  • What are the important steps to take?
  • What are the consequences of the processes?

Why do certain things happen?

  • Why do people act the way they do?
  • What leads to the individual action steps?

When answering the why question, care must be taken not to make any unauthorized interpretations or speculations. Only what is mentioned in the original text may be reproduced in the table of contents!

In general, the W-questions should not be answered too extensively. Make sure that the table of contents is written as briefly as possible and does not contain unnecessary details!

Checklist: write a summary

Once the table of contents is ready, you can use the following checklist to check your text again and revise it if necessary.
  • Correct structure (introduction, main part, conclusion)?
  • Completeness of the introduction?
  • Have you mentioned all the important steps?
  • Describing the events in the correct order?
  • Restriction to the essentials (most important steps)?
  • No unnecessary details or embellishments?
  • Concise and factual expression?
  • Is the table of contents written in the present tense? Prematurity in the perfect?
  • No quotes or direct speech?
  • Is the text easy to read and divided into meaningful paragraphs?
  • Correct spelling and punctuation?

With the help of this checklist you can turn a good synopsis into a perfect synopsis!

Write table of contents - further assistance
Page published on January 28, 2010. Last update on April 20th, 2021.
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