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2.5: Summarizing

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  • Introduction

    Are you familiar with the phrase, the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else?

    Writing a summary of a source is a very similar process to teaching someone the content–but in this case, the student you’re teaching is yourself.

    Summarizing–condensing someone else’s ideas and putting it into your own shortened form–allows you to be sure that you’ve accurately captured the main idea of the text you’re reading.

    How to Write Summary Statements

    Use these processes to help you write summary statements:

    • Underline important information and write key words in margin.
    • Record ideas using a two-column note-taking system. Record questions you have about the text concepts in the left column and answers you find in the reading in the right column.
    • Identify how concepts relate to what you already know.
    • Add examples and detail.

    For retaining key ideas as you read, write a summary statement at the end of each paragraph or section. For capturing the major ideas of the entire work, write a summary paragraph (or more) that describes the entire text.

    These summary statements will be very useful to draw from in the final step of the reading process, reviewing.

    For longer, overall summary projects that capture an entire reading, consider these guidelines for writing a summary:

    • A summary should contain the main thesis or standpoint of the text, restated in your own words. (To do this, first find the thesis statement in the original text.)
    • A summary is written in your own words. It contains few or no quotes.
    • A summary is always shorter than the original text, often about 1/3 as long as the original.  It is the ultimate fat-free writing.  An article or paper may be summarized in a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs. A book may be summarized in an article or a short paper.  A very large book may be summarized in a smaller book.
    • A summary should contain all the major points of the original text, and should ignore most of the fine details, examples, illustrations or explanations.
    • The backbone of any summary is formed by crucial details (key names, dates, events, words and numbers). A summary must never rely on vague generalities.
    • If you quote anything from the original text, even an unusual word or a catchy phrase, you need to put whatever you quote in quotation marks (” “).
    • A summary must contain only the ideas of the original text. Do not insert any of your own opinions, interpretations, deductions or comments into a summary.
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