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In Chapter 2: Reading to Figure out the Argument, we discussed strategies for understanding the reading by identifying the claims presented and mapping how they work together. Chapter 3 will focus on how to use this understanding to describe the argument in our own words. Such a description is called a summary, and it forms part of most college writing assignments. In some cases, the summary will be the entire essay. We may be given a page or word count range, which might be as short as a paragraph or as long as several pages. More frequently, the summary will be the starting point; a summary in the introduction or in the first page or two will serve to launch a discussion of our own opinion. In either case, we can use the summary strategies in this chapter to create a coherent chunk of writing that will give the reader a clear picture of the text we are analyzing.
If we have read a text and identified its claims and reasons along with any counterarguments and limits, we are in an excellent position to write a summary. If we have notes on the argument structure or an argument map, those can guide us as we write. Our notes or map will probably help us choose what to leave out and what to emphasize. They will point to the role each claim plays in the overall argument. In the summary, instead of annotations, colors, arrows, and labels like “claim” and “reason,” we will use strategic phrases to show how the parts fit together.
As we choose words to paraphrase a writer’s points, we will want to reread the text to see how strongly the writer suggests something or what attitude they take toward a counterargument. Thus the process of writing a summary helps us get even clearer about the writer’s intentions and implications than we would in making notes or mapping out the argument. Ultimately, summarizing will prepare us to comment, critique and respond more effectively, as we will see in Chapter 4, "Assessing the Strength of an Argument."