Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Writing Tips: Summaries
A summary is a restatement of someone else's words in your own words. There are many different kinds of summaries, and they vary according to the degree to which you interpret or analyze the source. Some are pages long, while others are just one or two sentences. However, for all types of summary, the writer is responsible for generally stating, in his or her own words, the main information or argument of another writer.
Purposes of the Summary
Before you write the summary, consider why your audience (professor, boss, client) wants to read it. Why shouldn't the reader just read the original? Summaries benefit the reader because they offer a concise, general version of the original information. For a busy reader, summaries provide quick overviews of material. Summaries also show readers that you have understood the general point of a text, and in this way, teachers can test your knowledge. The process of summarizing someone else's material enables you to better understand that material. Finally, summaries allow you to introduce knowledge within a research context: you can summarize someone's argument in order to analyze or critique it.
What and When to Summarize
Many student writers tend to quote when they should summarize material. Quote only when the author expresses a point in a particularly telling or interesting language. Otherwise, simply summarize. Use a summary to restate an entire argument. Use a summary to present information. Summary is more economical than quotation because a summary allows the writer more control over the argument.
How to Summarize
- Read the original passage or text very carefully.
- Use a pencil to highlight or underline what you take to be the main point of the original text, or make notes in the margins or on another sheet of paper.
- If you're summarizing an entire essay, outline the writer's argument.
- Now tell your audience what the original source argued.
- Summaries can range in length from two sentences to several pages. In any case, use complete sentences to describe an author's general points to your reader. Don't quote extensively. If you quote, use quotation marks and document the quotation. If you fail to document the quotation, even one word that the author used, you are plagiarizing material (presenting another person's information as if it were your own).
- Use the author's last name as a tag to introduce information: "Smith argues that population growth and environmental degradation are causally related." "Brown notes that education in the U.S. has undergone major revolutions in the past 20 years."
- Use the present tense (often called the historical present tense) to summarize the author's argument. "Green contends that the Republican and Democratic parties are funded by the same major corporations."
The following paragraph is summarized below. Note how the brief summary uses the principles outlined above.
Today, pornography attempts to make its audience focus their fantasies on specific people. The "Playmate of the Month" is a particular woman about whom the reader is meant to have particular fantasies. In my view, this has a more baneful effect on people--makes them demented, in fact, in a way that earlier pornography didn't. Today's pornography promises them that there exists, somewhere on this earth, a life of endlessly desirable and available women and endlessly potent men. The promise that this life is just around the corner--in Hugh Hefner's mansion, or even just in the next joint or the next snort--is maddening and disorienting. And in its futility, it makes for rage and self-hatred. The traditional argument against censorship--that "no one can be seduced by a book"--was probably valid when pornography was impersonal and anonymous, purely an aid to fantasizing about sexual utopia. Today, however, there is addiction and seduction in pornography.
Decter argues that because pornography is more realistic now, using photographs of people with names and identities, it is more harmful to its readers and viewers, who can easily grow dissatisfied and frustrated with fantasies.
How to Summarize an Essay
- Ask yourself, "what is the essay trying to tell me?" The topic of your essay may be about secondhand smoking, global warming or just about any other. You may have to carefully identify the topic of the essay first before you can be able to further elaborate on your summary.
- Identify the thesis of the essay. The thesis of the essay is the main argument of the article stating something about the topic. For example, if the topic of the essay is "secondhand smoking," the thesis states something about secondhand smoking, something like "secondhand smoking is worse than firsthand smoking" or "the government should look into secondhand smokers as a main concern for legislating health laws related to smoking in public."
- After identifying the thesis of your essay, you have to look for the main arguments supporting the thesis or main claim of the essay. If the thesis of the essay is "secondhand smoking is worse than firsthand smoking", identify the main arguments in support of and/or against the thesis.
- You can provide in your essay summary a few examples mentioned in the essay pertaining to the main arguments. However, try to limit the number of your examples to at least one or two as maximum since you are simply summarizing the article.
- Close your summary with a brief sentence about the essay's conclusion.
- DO NOT write as to whether the essay is well written or otherwise as it is not required for a summary. It is required, however, if you are doing a review of the essay instead of a summary.
- DO provide the author's name and the title of the essay at the beginning of your summary.
- Be direct to the point. Avoid writing down ideas and words that are not relevant to the essay.
- Keep words relatively simple. Avoid exaggerations. In summarizing an essay, keep in mind that less is more.
You may want to know how to summarize a research paper, a book, or other articles.
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