Sample: Summary Mini-Lesson

Dr. R: Let’s talk about summary. Based on the APA homework and the diagnostic rough drafts, it’s pretty clear some folks are still having difficulties discerning between summary and paraphrase. The distinction between these two is incredibly important to grasp, as your summary in your Essay 1 must be clear and concise. Note that you should be able to summarize the main argument claims of your chosen article in a single paragraph. OK, so what is a summary?

When we talk about summaries, we are usually talking about the summary of the main ideas of an entire work (although, if we’re focusing on a specific chapter or article in a larger work, we’d then be summarizing that one major component. For instance, most of us are summarizing individual articles, not the entire issue of a magazine or journal). Summary is used to “state the major ideas of an entire source or part of a source [see above] in your own words” (Faigley, 2010, p. 20). Note that the summaries are significantly shorter than the source.

Most academic guides recommend that a summary be no longer than ? the length of the original source. In other words, if you have a four page article and your summary is two pages long, that’s not an effective summary. Faigley even mentions that summaries are often “a paragraph or perhaps even a sentence” (emphasis mine] (2010, p. 631). Note the key ideas in the section above—summaries are short and they are in your own words. They only focus on the “main points, not most of the examples or supporting materials” (Faigley, 2010, p. 20).

To put this in layman’s terms for you as you check your summary work, note that this means that words like “uses examples” or “uses statistics” or “Smith discusses a man in Ireland who” are not summary appropriate—those are areas where you are actually paraphrasing supporting data/details, not summarizing the author’s main ideas. How are paraphrase and summary different? First, we tend to paraphrase specific examples or sentences. A paraphrase of a statement is often used to help clarify the ideas in that one statement, rather than to give an overview of an entire work.

We most often use paraphrase after we’ve quoted a work—you use that paraphrasing to help situate and show connection between the quoted material and your own ideas, for instance. As Faigley notes, “[w]hen you paraphrase, you represent the idea of the source in your own words at about the same length as the original” (emphasis mine] (Faigley, 2010, p. 631). Note that the main distinctions between summary and paraphrase are the length and the purpose of the tasks. Paraphrase is all about explaining a specific single idea at about the same length while summary is an overview of the entire piece that is much shorter.

What are some strategies for effective summary? One tip is to look at the overall document. Are there headings in the source? If so, those headings should directly relate to the main ideas—they are like little summary bullet points for the article, which means the author did some of the work for you! If there are not clearly marked sections of the source (which there often are not), you’re going to have to create some notes to work from. Read the article from start to finish, just reading. Then, on a second reading, read one paragraph at a time.

Once you read the paragraph over, write in the margins what the main point of that paragraph is. ( A print out of the article is great for this, but if you are paperless, you can copy the article into Word and type in your paragraph notes in a different color font or use the insert comment feature to annotate the source). Once you have created that list of notes—one phrase or sentence per paragraph—you can then take those and read through them. What main ideas are repeated that you can group together? What paragraphs seem to just list supporting examples and should be therefore excluded from your summary?

Use those notes to actually develop a single paragraph of summary—your summary should have no more sentences in it than the source has paragraphs (and in most cases, should have fewer). Common Summary Errors 1. Including supporting details or discussing data and examples from the source. 2. Adding evaluation or commentary to your own point of view. 3. Writing the summary by focusing on retelling the entire source—this is paraphrasing and can often be identified by the keywords in the long section that include things like “he begins” and “he goes on to discuss” and” having covered X, he moves on to Y. Those are phrases that indicate you’re including minor details an retelling everything, not summarizing. 4. Including quotations. 5. Incorporating additional sources (other than the thing you are summarizing). 6. Lacking signal phrasing that indicates key points. Your summary should set up the thesis/position of what is being summarized and follow with the main ideas or claims. Using signal phrasing like “Smith’s main argument is” and “one reason Smith argues X is” will help you make smoother transitions and remind the reader you are summarizing the main points only. Resources Columbia University School of Social Work (n. . ). Writing summaries. Writing Center Handouts. Retrieved from http://www. columbia. edu/cu/ssw/write/handouts/summary. html Faigley, L. (2010). Writing: A guide for college and beyond. New York: Longman. Student Development Centre (2009). Writing resources: Summary Writing. The University of Western Ontario. Retrieved from http://www. sdc. uwo. ca/writing/index. html? handouts [direct link: www. sdc. uwo. ca/writing/handouts/Summary%20Writing. pdf ] The Write Place (1997). Process for writing a summary. LEO: Literacy Education Online. Retrieved from http://leo. stcloudstate. edu/acadwrite/summary. html

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