HUNTER COLLEGE READING/WRITING CENTER
THE WRITING PROCESS
Invention: Guidelines for Writing a Summary
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WHAT A SUMMARY IS
When you underline and annotate a text, when you ask yourself
questions about its contents, when you work out an outline of its
structure, you are demonstrating to yourself that you understand
what you are reading. When you write a summary, you are recording
your understanding of the text and communicating it to your reader.
To summarize is to condense an author's text to its main
points and to do so in your own words. Therefore, to include every
detail is neither necessary nor desirable. Instead, you should
extract only those elements which you think are most important--the
main idea (or thesis) and its essential supporting points, which in
the original passage may have been interwoven with less important
WHEN AND HOW TO SUMMARIZE
It is unlikely that an instructor will assign a summary as a
complete writing assignment. Most often summary is part of the
notetaking and planning processes, although you may be asked to
include a summary as part of a larger assignment, for instance as
an overview of research sources or as part of a book report,
response essay or critique.
Many students make the mistake of confusing summary and
analysis. They are not the same thing. If you are writing a
Literature paper, your teacher probably does not want you to simply
write a plot summary of a text. You may include some very brief
summary within a literature paper, but only as much as necessary to
make your own interpretation, your thesis clear.
Depending on the length and complexity of the original
passage, a summary can be relatively brief (a single sentence or a
short paragraph) or extended as a comprehensive piece of writing.
The brief summary is often used as part of a larger essay.
For example, you have probably summarized your own ideas in the
topic sentence of a paragraph or in the conclusion of an essay.
When you wish to discuss another piece of writing, you generally
summarize the contents briefly in order to establish for the reader
the ideas that your essay will then go on to analyze.
The writer of a research paper is especially dependent upon
summary as a means of referring to source materials. Through
summary, you can condense a broad range of information, and you can
present and explain the relevance of a number of sources all
dealing with the same subject.
QUALITIES OF A SUMMARY
A good summary should exhibit qualities of comprehensiveness,
conciseness, coherence, and independence. these qualities are
1. A summary must be comprehensive. You should isolate all
the important points in the original passage and note them down in
a list. Review all the ideas on your list, and include in your
summary all the ones that are indispensable to the author's
development of his/her thesis (or main point).
2. A summary must be concise. Eliminate repetitions in your
list, even if the author restates the same points. Your summary
should be considerably shorter than the source. You are hoping to
create an overview; therefore, you need not include every
repetition of a point or every supporting detail.
3. A summary must be coherent. It should make sense as a
piece of writing in its own right; it should not merely be taken
directly from your list of notes or sound like a list of sentences
that are strung together in paragraph or essay format.
4. A summary must be independent. You are not being asked to
imitate the author whom you are writing about. On the contrary,
you are expected to maintain your own voice throughout the summary.
Don't simply quote the author; instead use your own words to
express your own understanding of what you have read. After all,
your summary is based on your interpretation of the writer's points
or ideas. However, you should be careful not to create any
misrepresentation or distortion by introducing comments or
criticisms of your own.
TWO TECHNIQUES FOR WRITING SUMMARIES
Summarizing Brief Texts (ten pages or fewer)
1. Write a one-sentence summary of each paragraph.
2. Formulate a single sentence that summarizes the whole text.
3. Write a paragraph (or more): begin with the overall summary
sentence and follow it with the paragraph summary sentences.
4. Rearrange and rewrite the paragraph to make it clear and
concise, to eliminate repetition and relatively minor points, and
to provide transitions. The final version should be a complete,
unified and coherent whole
Summarizing Longer Texts (eleven pages or more)
1. Outline the text. Break it down into its major sections--groups
of paragraphs focused on a common topics--and list the main
supporting points for each section.
2. Write a one or two sentence summary of each section.
3. Formulate a single sentence to summarize the whole text, looking
at the author's thesis or topic sentences as a guide.
4. Write a paragraph (or more): begin with the overall summary
sentence and follow it with the section summary sentences.
5. Rewrite and rearrange your paragraph(s) as needed to make your
writing clear and concise, to eliminate relatively minor or
repetitious points, and to provide transitions. Make sure your
summary includes all the major supporting points of each idea.
The final version should be a unified, complete, and coherent
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