WRITING SUMMARIES[1]

 

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A summary is a concise restatement in one’s own words of another, longer document, usually an article or a report. Summaries are often used in business and academic settings in which a committee or small group of teachers or students need to grasp a great deal of material very quickly. In such cases, the group will summarize for the group as a whole, so every person won’t have to read every single document. Needless to say, in such cases the summaries must be accurate as well as brief.

         Summaries are also handy study tools for students, particularly those facing essay tests. Summarizing the chapters in a textbook or articles assigned to be read can help in reviewing the material and is a great help in remembering the material. Moreover, once you have written down the information, writing it again under the pressure of time, as during an essay text becomes much easier.

         The summaries we will write for this class should be as carefully composed as an essay and have all of an essay’s usual characteristics, including paragraphs with topic sentences. A working summary that you write for yourself need not be so formal; it may even be all one paragraph if that suits your  purpose.

         A good working summary is written in your own words, though you may want to borrow brief key phrases from the original. It must have the following characteristics:

 

      Above all, it must maintain and communicate the meaning of the original.

      It must not contain your opinions or views on the original.

      It must stick strictly to what the original writer had to say.

      It must contain all the main points of the original.

      Usually it will not contain the supporting points, unless one or more of them is of unusual importance.

 

You can see that to write a good summary you need to exercise a great deal of judgment about what is important to include and what represents too much detail.

 

A good working summary should answer these questions:

 

1.    What is the subject of the original? What problem or situation is the writer addressing? (You might want to set this off as a separate paragraph, like an introduction, to make it stand out.)

2.    What are the main points of the original? The summary may or may not stick  to the same order as the original. Normally summaries will cover the most important points first, although articles and reports often do not do  that. If the original involves discussion of some pro/con issue or compares two things, the summary will usually give all the pro points together and all the con points together or keep the various points of the comparison together even though the original might not be organized that way.

3.    What conclusions does the original reach?

 

STEPS IN WRITING A SUMMARY

 

         How do you go about writing a good working summary? If you follow the steps  below, you will have an excellent chance of producing a useful and accurate summary.

 

1.    Read through the entire original to get an understanding of the whole piece. On a piece of scratch paper, write in your own words the point of the piece, which you will usually find in the introduction and its conclusion.

 

2.    Reread and underline or highlight the important ideas. Carefully check the beginnings of paragraphs for topic sentences that announce new points.  Normally, you will not want to highlight supporting facts, but some may be so striking or otherwise important that you will want to include them in your summary.

 

3.    Now write the introductory statement of your summary, explaining what the original is about. Try to confine yourself to one sentence—two at the most.

 

4.    Decide on the order in which you want to present the main points of the original; you will probably need to do some scribbling on scratch paper to do this.  Review the materials you have highlighted to make sure you cover everything.

 

5.    Write the body of your summary, using your own words and making sure to cover all the key points.

 

6.    Write your last part, on which you explain what the original author’s conclusions were. Be sure to keep your own opinions out of this part.

 

7.    Proofread for spelling, typographical errors, and the conventions of usage. In particular, compare the spelling of titles, authors, and other names and key terms with those in the original document.

 



[1]   Taken from Texts and Contexts by William Robinson

 

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