Invention: Guidelines for Writing a Summary


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 material.


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.


A good summary should exhibit qualities of comprehensiveness, conciseness, coherence, and independence. these qualities are explained below: 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.


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 whole.
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