Identifying Main Points, Concerns, and Images
If you ever watch TV shows with a serial plot, you might be familiar with the phrase "Previously, on _________." The snippets at the beginning of an episode are designed to remind the viewer of the important parts of previous episodes- but how do makers of the show determine what a viewer needs to be refreshed on? And why am I watching full episodes if they'll just tell me what I need to know in the first minute of the next episode?
Typically, the makers of the show choose short, punchy bits that will be relevant in the new episode's narrative arc. For instance, a "Previously, on The Walking Dead" might have a clop from ten episodes ago showing zombies invading Hershel's farm if the new episode focuses on Hershel and his family. Therefore, these "previously ons" hook the viewer by showcasing only exciting parts and prime the viewer for a new story by planting specific details in their mind. Summaries like this are driven by purpose, and consequently have a specific job to do in choosing main points.
You, too, should consider your rhetorical purpose when you begin writing summary. Whether you are writing a summary essay or using summary as a tool for analysis, your choices about what to summarize and how to summarize to should be determined by what you're trying to accomplish with your writing.
As you engage with a text you plan to summarize, you should begin by identifying main points, recurring images, or concerns and preoccupations of the text. (You may find the Engaged Reading Strategies appendix of this book useful.) After reading and rereading, what ideas stick with you? What does the author seem distracted by? What keeps cropping up?
Tracking Your Reactions
As you read and reread a text, you should take regular breaks to check in with yourself to track your reactions. Are you feeling sympathetic toward the speaker, narrator, or author? To the other characters? What other events, ideas, or contexts are you reminded of as you read? Do you understand and agree with the speaker, narrator, or author? What is your emotional state? At what points do you feel confused or uncertain, and why?
Try out the double-column note-taking method. As illustrated below, divide a piece of paper into two columns; on the left, make a heading for "Notes and Quotes," and on the right, "Questions and Reactions." As you move through a text, jot down important ideas and words from the text on the left, and record your intellectual and emotional reactions on the right. Be sure to ask prodding questions of the text along the way, too.
|Notes and Quotes
|Questions and Reactions
Writing Your Summary
Once you have read and re-read your text at least once, taking notes and reflecting along the way, you are ready to start writing a summary. Before starting, consider your rhetorical situation: What are you trying to accomplish (purpose) with your summary? What details and ideas (subject) are important for your reader (audience) to know? Should you assume that they have also read the text you're summarizing? I'm thinking back here to the "Previously on..." idea: TV series don't include everything from a prior episode; they focus instead on moments that set up the events of their next episode. You too should choose your content in accordance with your rhetorical situation.
I encourage you to start off articulating the "key" idea or ideas from the text in one or two sentences. Focus on clarity of language: start with simple word choice, a single idea, and a straightforward perspective so that you establish a solid foundation.
The authors support feminist theories and practices that are critical of racism and other oppressions.
Then, before that sentence, write one or two more sentences that introduce the title of the text, its authors, and its main concerns or interventions. Revise your key idea sentence as necessary.
In "Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It)," Jarune Uwuajaren and Jamie Utt critique what is known as 'white feminism.' They explain that sexism is wrapped up in racism, Islamophobia, heterosexism, transphobia, and other systems of oppression. The authors support feminist theories and practices that recognize intersectionality.
Your next steps will depend largely on the reasons you are summarizing. Has your teacher asked you to summarize objectively, reproducing the ideas of the text without adding your own ideas or reactions? Have they asked you to critique the article, by both showing understanding and then pushing back against the text? Follow the parameters of your assignment; they are an important element of your rhetorical situation.
In most summary assignments, though, you will be expected to draw directly from the article itself by using direct quotes or paraphrases in addition to your own summary.
Paraphrase, Summary, and Direct Quotes
Whether you're writing a summary or broaching your analysis, using support from the text will help you clarify ideas, demonstrate your understanding, or further your argument, among other thins. Three distinct methods, which Bruce Ballenger refers to as "The Notetaker's Triad," will allow you to process and reuse information from your focus text.67
A direct quote might be most familiar to you: using quotation marks (" ") to indicate the moments that you're borrowing, you reproduce an author's words verbatim in your own writing. Use a direct quote if someone else wrote or said something in a distinctive or particular way and you want to capture their words exactly. Direct quotes are good for establishing ethos and providing evidence. In a text wrestling essay, you will be expected to use multiple direct quotes: in order to attend to specific language, you will need to reproduce segments of that language in your analysis.
Paraphrasing is similar to the process of summary. When we paraphrase, we process information or ideas from another person's text and put it in our words. The main difference between paraphrase and summary is scope: if summarizing means rewording and condensing, then paraphrasing means rewording without drastically altering length. However, paraphrasing is also generally more faithful to the spirit of the original; whereas a summary requires you to process and invites your own perspective, a paraphrase ought to mirror back the original idea using your own language.
Paraphrasing is helpful for establishing background knowledge or general consensus, simplifying a complicated idea, or reminding your reader of a certain part of another text. It is also valuable when relaying statistics or historical information, both of which are usually more fluidly woven into your writing when spoken with your own voice.
Summary, as discussed earlier in this chapter, is useful for "broadstrokes" or quick overviews, brief references, and providing plot or character background. When you summarize, you reword and condense another author's writing. Be aware, though, that summary also requires individual thought: when you reword, it should be a result of you processing the idea yourself, and when you condense, you must think critically about which parts of the text are most important. As you can see in the example below, one summary shows understanding and puts the original into the author's own words; the other summary is a result of a passive rewording, where the author only substituted synonyms for the original.
Original Quote: "On Facebook, what you click on, what you share with your 'friends' shapes your profile, preferences, affinities, political opinions and your vision of the world. The last thing Facebook wants is to contradict you in any way" (Filloux).
|On Facebook, the things you click on and share forms your profile, likings, sympathies, governmental ideas and your image of society. Facebook doesn't want to contradict you at all (Filloux).
|When you interact with Facebook, you teach the algorithms about yourself. Those algorithms want to mirror back your beliefs (Filloux).
Each of these tactics should support your summary or analysis: you should integrate quotes, paraphrases, and summary with your own writing. Below, you can see three examples of these tools. Consider how the direct quote, the paraphrase, and the summary each could be used to achieve different purposes.
It has been suggested (again rather anecdotally) that giraffes do communicate using infrasonic vocalizations (the signals are verbally described to be similar- in structure and function- to the low-frequency, infrasonic "rumbles" of elephants). It was further speculated that the extensive frontal sinus of giraffes acts as a resonance chamber for infrasound production. Moreover, particular neck movements (e.g. the neck stretch) are suggested to be associated with the production of infrasonic vocalizations.68
|Some zoological experts have pointed out that the evidence for giraffe hums has been "rather anecdotally" reported (Baotic et al. 3). However, some scientists have "speculated that the extensive frontal sinus of giraffes acts as a resonance chamber for infrasound production" (Ibid 3).
|Giraffes emit a low-pitch noise; some scientists believe that this hum can be used for communication with other members of the social group, but others are skeptical because of the dearth of research on giraffe noises. According to Baotic et al.. the anatomy of the animal suggests that they may be making deliberate and specific noises (3).
|Baotic et al. conducted a study on giraffe hums in response to speculation that these noises are used deliberately for communication.
The examples above also demonstrate additional citation conventions worth noting:
- A parenthetical in-text citation is used for all three forms. (In MLA format, this citation includes the author's last name and page number.) The purpose of an in-text citation is to identify key information that guides your reader to your Works Cited page (or Bibliography or References, depending on your format).
- If you use the author's name in the sentence, you do not need to include their name in the parenthetical citation.
- If your material doesn't come from a specific page or page range, but rather from the entire text, you do not need to include a page number in the parenthetical citation.
- If there are many authors (generally more than three), you can use "et al." to mean "and others."
- If you cite the same source consecutively in the same paragraph (without citing any other sources in between), you can use "lbid." to mean "same as the last one."
In Chapter Six, we will discuss integrating quotes, summaries, and paraphrases into your text wrestling analysis. Especially if you are writing a summary that requires you to use direct quotes, I encourage you to jump ahead to "Synthesis: Using Evidence to Explore Your Thesis" in that chapter.