Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Writing Tips: Summaries
A summary is a restatement of someone else's words in your own words. There are many different kinds of summaries, and they vary according to the degree to which you interpret or analyze the source. Some are pages long, while others are just one or two sentences. However, for all types of summary, the writer is responsible for generally stating, in his or her own words, the main information or argument of another writer.
Before you write the summary, consider why your audience (professor, boss, client) wants to read it. Why shouldn't the reader just read the original? Summaries benefit the reader because they offer a concise, general version of the original information. For a busy reader, summaries provide quick overviews of material. Summaries also show readers that you have understood the general point of a text, and in this way, teachers can test your knowledge. The process of summarizing someone else's material enables you to better understand that material. Finally, summaries allow you to introduce knowledge within a research context: you can summarize someone's argument in order to analyze or critique it.
Many student writers tend to quote when they should summarize material. Quote only when the author expresses a point in a particularly telling or interesting language. Otherwise, simply summarize. Use a summary to restate an entire argument. Use a summary to present information. Summary is more economical than quotation because a summary allows the writer more control over the argument.
- Read the original passage or text very carefully.
- Use a pencil to highlight or underline what you take to be the main point of the original text, or make notes in the margins or on another sheet of paper.
- If you're summarizing an entire essay, outline the writer's argument.
- Now tell your audience what the original source argued.
- Summaries can range in length from two sentences to several pages. In any case, use complete sentences to describe an author's general points to your reader. Don't quote extensively. If you quote, use quotation marks and document the quotation. If you fail to document the quotation, even one word that the author used, you are plagiarizing material (presenting another person's information as if it were your own).
- Use the author's last name as a tag to introduce information: "Smith argues that population growth and environmental degradation are causally related." "Brown notes that education in the U.S. has undergone major revolutions in the past 20 years."
- Use the present tense (often called the historical present tense) to summarize the author's argument. "Green contends that the Republican and Democratic parties are funded by the same major corporations."
The following paragraph is summarized below. Note how the brief summary uses the principles outlined above.
Today, pornography attempts to make its audience focus their fantasies on specific people. The "Playmate of the Month" is a particular woman about whom the reader is meant to have particular fantasies. In my view, this has a more baneful effect on people--makes them demented, in fact, in a way that earlier pornography didn't. Today's pornography promises them that there exists, somewhere on this earth, a life of endlessly desirable and available women and endlessly potent men. The promise that this life is just around the corner--in Hugh Hefner's mansion, or even just in the next joint or the next snort--is maddening and disorienting. And in its futility, it makes for rage and self-hatred. The traditional argument against censorship--that "no one can be seduced by a book"--was probably valid when pornography was impersonal and anonymous, purely an aid to fantasizing about sexual utopia. Today, however, there is addiction and seduction in pornography.
Decter argues that because pornography is more realistic now, using photographs of people with names and identities, it is more harmful to its readers and viewers, who can easily grow dissatisfied and frustrated with fantasies.