Unit 3: Summarizing and Responding to Writing

12 Summarizing

Preview Questions:

  1. What are the features of a good summary?
  2. What is the difference between a summary and a paraphrase?
  3. How do the skills of summary and paraphrase work together?
  4. Why are summaries and paraphrases useful?
  5. Why do I have to learn how to write a summary? Can’t I just use an AI-based tool to summarize text for me?

Summarizing, like paraphrasing, is your explanation of another person’s ideas. We often use summaries in both speaking and writing to tell listeners or readers our ideas quickly and clearly. For example, if a friend asks you to tell her about a movie you saw recently, you would not spend two hours telling her everything that happened in the movie. Instead, you would probably just briefly tell her about the movie’s main plot and characters.

In academic writing, summarizing is important when we use ideas from other sources to support our own arguments. This skill differs from paraphrasing. Instead of trying to reproduce an idea in its entirety as expressed by the author, we try to express the main idea(s) without including details from the original.

Using an AI-based tool can help you summarize and understand a text. It is also important to be able to extract the most important points on your own to develop your reading and critical thinking skills. If you can “tell a friend” what a text is about, this will help you remember the information and develop your paraphrasing skills.

Five criteria for a good summary

  1. Acknowledges the source:
    1. refers to the writer and/or the title of the work in a formal way.
    2. uses attributive language and reporting verbs throughout the summary to remind the reader that you are summarizing someone else’s ideas.
  2. Contains only the most important information from original source:
    1. the topic of the article,
    2. the author’s thesis or main point,
    3. and a few important main supporting points needed to explain the thesis/main point.
  3. Accurately expresses the source:
    1. maintains the exact same meaning of the source you are summarizing.
    2. conveys the tone of the original text.
    3. may follow the same organization of the original text, but it is also acceptable to reorganize the author’s ideas in your summary as long as you capture the same meaning.
  4. Is short and condensed:
    1. A good summary is shorter than the original source.
    2. It could be as short as one sentence (which contains the author’s thesis) or may be a paragraph or longer, in which case it will include the main supporting points.
  5. Uses your own original language:
    1. A good summary paraphrases any information taken from the original source
    2. Any language that comes directly from the original source must be put in quotation marks. Direct quotations should be used minimally.

Adapted from: Dollahite, N.E. & Huan, J. (2012). SourceWork: Academic Writing for Success.

Knowledge Check

From Excelsior Online Writing Lab, Summarizing and Plagiarism


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