3.7: Writing a Short Summary of a Long Argument
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Thus far we have given examples of summaries that are close in length to the original argument. Very often in college and professional life, though, we will need to summarize a multi-page argument in just a sentence, a paragraph, or a page. How do we cover the most important ideas of the argument in just a few words? How do we decide what to leave out of the summary?
If we have already sorted out which ideas are the supporting examples and statistics and which are the main claim and reasons, that knowledge can guide us. The summary can allude to the supporting evidence rather than describing its details. It can leave out the specifics of any anecdotes, testimonials, or statistics.
For example, let's imagine we want to summarize an article that encourages people to buy the digital cryptocurrency BitCoin. The article might describe a number of different kinds of products people can buy with BitCoin and tell stories of individuals who used BitCoin for different purposes or invested in BitCoin and made a profit. Depending on how long our summary is supposed to be, we can represent those parts of the argument in more or less detail. If we need to summarize the article in a sentence, we might simply refer to all of this supporting evidence with a couple of words like "variety" and "profit."
Sample one-sentence summary: "Go BitCoin" by Tracy Kim encourages the general public to buy BitCoin by showing us the variety of things we can buy with it and the profit to be made."
If we have a bit more space, we might keep the same single-sentence overview but also throw in a few examples of the kinds of specifics mentioned in the article.
Sample slightly longer summary: "Go BitCoin" by Tracy Kim encourages the general public to buy BitCoin by showing us the variety of things we can buy with it and the profit to be made. First, Kim describes how we would go about paying for a range of products, from a Tesla to a sofa. Second, she gives statistics on BitCoin's rate of return and tells the stories of three young people who invested modest amounts in BitCoin and saw their money as much as triple within a year.
Notice how, in the above example, the summary alludes to three stories that have something in common but gives a detail that only applies to one of them. The summary writer chose the most memorable example of profit to include. If we have space to write a full paragraph, we could include more detail on the process of buying with bitcoin, on the investment statistics alluded to, and on the stories of investors.
Sample paragraph-long summary: "Go BitCoin" by Tracy Kim encourages the general public to buy the cryptocurrency BitCoin by showing us the variety of things we can buy with it and the profit to be made. First, Kim describes how we would go about paying for a range of products, from a Tesla to a sofa. She shows how more and more vendors are accepting BitCoin directly, but for the moment some of the largest ones, like Amazon, require buyers to use a third-party app to convert their BitCoin. Second, she gives statistics on BitCoin's rate of return. BitCoin has gone through boom and bust cycles, but most recently its value increased 252% between July 2020 and July 2021. Finally, she tells the stories of three young people who invested modest amounts in BitCoin and saw their money as much as triple within a year. Kim shows how ordinary people can see more options open up in their lives through these investments. One teenager, Vijay Mather, was able to cover four years of college tuition by investing his earnings from working at Trader Joe's.
The original argument would include many more details, including how Vijay Mather got interested in BitCoin and exactly how much he made on his investment. It probably also includes the names of the other two young people it profiles and more about their experiences. However, the summary writer has picked out what those experiences have in common--the fact that the profits allowed them to consider new options in their lives. The writer has focused on Tracy Kim's purpose in presenting those examples: to raise readers' awareness of the possibilities.
Read the two paragraphs below.
- Summarize them in just one sentence.
- Summarize them in two to three sentences, including a few more specifics.
The Black/white binary is the predominant racial binary system at play in the American context. We can see that this Black/white binary exists and is socially constructed if we consider the case of the 19th Century Irish immigrant. When they first arrived, Irish immigrants were “blackened” in the popular press and the white, Anglo-Saxon imagination (Roediger 1991). Cartoon depictions of Irish immigrants gave them dark skin and exaggerated facial features like big lips and pronounced brows. They were depicted and thought to be lazy, ignorant, and alcoholic nonwhite “others” for decades.
Over time, Irish immigrants and their children and grandchildren assimilated into the category of “white” by strategically distancing themselves from Black Americans and other non-whites in labor disputes and participating in white supremacist racial practices and ideologies. In this way, the Irish in America became white. A similar process took place for Italian-Americans, and, later, Jewish American immigrants from multiple European countries after the Second World War. Similar to Irish Americans, both groups became white after first being seen as non-white. These cases show how socially constructed race is and how this labeling process still operates today. For instance, are Asian-Americans, considered the “model minority,” the next group to be integrated into the white category, or will they continue to be regarded as foreign threats? Only time will tell.