Chapter 4: Writing a Summary

What is a summary?

A summary is a comprehensive and objective restatement of the main ideas of a text (an article, book, movie, event, etc.)  Stephen Wilhoit, in his textbook A Brief Guide to Writing from Readings, suggests that keeping the qualities of a good summary in mind helps students avoid the pitfalls of unclear or disjointed summaries.  These qualities include:

Neutrality – The writer avoids inserting his or her opinion into the summary, or interpreting the original text’s content in any way.  This requires the writer avoid language that is evaluative, such as: good, bad, effective, ineffective, interesting, boring, etc. Also, keep “I” out of the summary; instead, summary should be written in grammatical 3rd person (For example: “he”, “she”, “the author”, “they”, etc).

Brevity – The summary should not be longer than the original text, but rather highlight the most important information from that text while leaving out unnecessary details while still maintaining accuracy.

Independence – The summary should make sense to someone who has not read the original source.  There should be no confusion about the main content and organization of the original source.  This also requires that the summary be accurate.

By mastering the craft of summarizing, students put themselves in the position to do well on many assignments in college, not just English essays.  In most fields (from the humanities to the soft and hard sciences) summary is a required task.  Being able to summarize lab results accurately and briefly, for example, is critical in a chemistry or engineering class. Summarizing the various theories of sociology or education helps a person apply them to his or her fieldwork. In college, it’s imperative we learn how to summarize well because we are asked to do it so often.

Why should I learn how to write a summary?

Summary writing is a genre and one used often in college classes. In most classes, you will write some form of summary, which may be short, annotative summaries; long, stand-alone summaries; or summaries that act as an integral piece of the overall essay. Our first assignment reflects the third type of essay; however, you will use summary throughout the semester in ENG 100/101 and throughout your college careers.

In This Chapter

This chapter introduces the importance of choosing appropriate grammatical voice when writing and provides some strategies for writing an effective and accurate summary.