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."

Example $$\PageIndex{1}$$

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.

Example $$\PageIndex{2}$$

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.

Example $$\PageIndex{3}$$

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.

Exercise $$\PageIndex{1}$$