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3.2: Summarizing

  • Page ID
  • Skills to Develop

    • Explain and apply the criteria for making a summary
    • Identify and avoid the challenges of creating summaries

    In Chapter 2, you practised identifying main and supporting ideas, which is necessary for your understanding and for creating a summary of the information you have read; once you have identified what you think the important ideas are, you can transfer that information into a new paragraph, putting the original source’s ideas into your own words or what is called paraphrasing.

    In this section and in other places throughout this book, you will meet Jorge, who has been assigned a paper on low-carbohydrate papers. You will follow Jorge on the steps to creating his paper, starting with his summary.

    What Is a Summary?

    When you summarize, you are filtering and condensing the most necessary points from a source, like a book, article, or website.

    When summarizing material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers. To create a summary, consider the following points:

    Review the source material as you summarize it.

    Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples.

    Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

    Make a careful record of where you found the information because you will need to include the reference and citation if you choose to use the information in an essay. It is much easier to do this when you are creating the summary and taking notes than having to go back and hunt for the information later. Guessing where you think you got it from is not good enough.

    Summaries and Abstracts

    When you read many journal articles, you will notice there is an abstract before the article starts: this is a summary of the article’s contents. Be careful when you are summarizing an article to not depend too much on the abstract as it is already a condensed version of the content. The author of the abstract identified the main points from his or her perception; these may not match your own purpose or your own idea of what is important. What may also happen if you try to summarize the abstract is you will probably end up replacing some words with synonyms and not changing the overall ideas into your own words because the ideas are already summarized, and it is difficult to make them more generalized (we will discuss this more in Section 3.3: Paraphrasing). You have to read the entire source or section of the source and determine for yourself what the key and supporting ideas are.


    A summary or abstract of a reading passage is one-tenth to one-quarter the length of the original passage, written in your own words. The criteria for a summary are that it:

    Includes only the main points and key details

    Is valuable because it is the surest way to measure your understanding

    Helps you remember because you must attend carefully to what you read, organize your thoughts, and write them out to make it meaningful to you (This is absolutely necessary when you cannot mark a book because it belongs to someone else.)

    Challenges you to be concise in your writing while providing balanced coverage of the main points.

    Challenges you to paraphrase or use your own words and avoid using too many quotations.

    Is important to remain objective because you are giving the author’s views not your own.

    In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge’s summary of the article.

    Article: Assessing the Efficacy of LowCarbohydrate Diets

    Adrienne Howell, Ph.D. (2010)

    Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.


    In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).


    A summary restates ideas in your own words, but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

    Summary Paragraphs

    A summary shrinks a large amount of information into only the essentials. You probably summarize events, books, and movies daily. Think about the last movie you saw or the last novel you read. Chances are, at some point in a casual conversation with a friend, co-worker, or classmate, you compressed all the action of a two-hour film or a 200-page book into a brief description of the major plot movements. You probably described the main points in just a few sentences, using your own vocabulary and manner of speaking.

    Similarly, a summary paragraph condenses a long piece of writing into a smaller paragraph by extracting only the vital information. A summary uses only the writer’s own words. Like the summary’s purpose in daily conversation, the purpose of an academic summary paragraph is to maintain all the essential information from a longer document. Although shorter than the original piece of writing, a summary should still communicate all the key points and key support. In other words, summary paragraphs should be succinct and to the point.

    The following is another example of a report on the use of alcohol by adolescents with an example of a student summary of that information.

    report information

    article 2

    A summary of the report should present all the main points and supporting details in brief. Read the following summary of the report written by a student:


    Notice how the summary retains the key points made by the writers of the original report but omits most of the statistical data. Summaries do not need to contain all the specific facts and figures in the original document; they provide only an overview of the essential information.


    To write a summary:

    Survey the passage, anticipating main points and checking them.

    Read carefully, locating all controlling ideas, identifying key details, and deciding which are necessary to remember and which are not.

    Write a paragraph in whole sentences that relate/explain only the controlling ideas and supporting details; be economical and use no more words than necessary.

    Differentiate between your ideas and the original author’s by using phrases such as “According to Marshall (2014), ….” or “ Marshall (2014) argues that ….

    Exercise 3.5

    • Read the following passage and use a note-taking method to identify the main points.
    • Compose a sentence summarizing the paragraph’s main points.

    Several factors about the environment influence our behaviour. First, temperature can influence us greatly. We seem to feel best when the temperature is in the high teens to low 20s. If it is too hot or cold, we have trouble concentrating. Lighting also influences how we function. A dark lecture hall may interfere with the lecture, or a bright nightclub might spoil romantic conversation. Finally, our behaviour is affected by colour. Some colours make us feel a peaceful while others are exciting. If you wanted a quiet room in which to study, for example, you would not paint it bright orange or red.

    Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.


    Key points:

    Environmental factors influence behaviour:

    Temperature: extremes make focus difficult Lighting: inappropriate lighting is disorientating

    Summary sentence:

    Three environmental influences that impact human behaviour include temperature, as extreme fluctuations make it difficult to focus; lighting, which can affect our ability to engage with different environments; and colour, which affects our mood.

    • Colour: colour affects relaxation

    Here are possible answers:

    Passage taken from: Ueland, B. (2006). Becoming a Master Student. Boston, MA : Houghton Mifflin College Div., p. 121.

    Exercise 3.6

    Read the passage.
    Highlight or underline necessary information (hint: there are five important ideas).
    Write your summary.

    Most people drink orange juice and eat oranges because they are said to be rich in vitamin C. There are also other foods that are rich in vitamin C. It is found in citrus fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, and carrots.

    Vitamin C is important to our health. Do you really know how essential this nutrient is to our health and well-being? Our body needs to heal itself. Vitamin C can repair and prevent damage to the cells in our body and heal wounds. It also keeps our teeth and gums healthy. That is not all. It protects our body from infections such as colds and flu and also helps us to get better faster when we have these infections. That is why a lot of people drink orange juice and take vitamin C tablets every day. This wonderful vitamin is also good for our heart. It protects the linings of the arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood. In other words, it offers protection against heart disease.

    If we do not get enough vitamin C, which means we are not eating enough food that contains this vitamin, it can lead to serious diseases. Lack of vitamin C can lead to scurvy, which causes swollen gums, cheeks, fingers, hands, toes, and feet. In serious conditions, it can lead to bleeding from wounds, loss of teeth, and opening up of wounds. Therefore, make sure you have enough vitamin C in your diet.

    Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

    Exercise taken from:

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