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Writing Summaries

English 127
Research Writing

Writing a summary is not as easy as you might think if you haven't had experience.  It is, however, an extremely crucial skill to develop for research writing.  You have to have confidence in yourself as writer and/or researcher and you have to inspire confidence in YOUR readers that you can accurately and concisely tell us what other people have written in their articles on a particular subject.  There is some variation in how different handbooks present summary writing, including how long the summary should be, the number of paragraphs, and whether to include quotations.  Here are my comments and guidelines for you to follow while writing summaries:

1.  Purpose:  Think of the purpose of a summary as conveying the contents of an article to someone who hasn't read it.  Ask yourself whether the reader would have an objective, accurate, clear, and  concise but comprehensive understanding of the article just from reading your summary. 

2.  Length: Depending on the length of your summary, you obviously have to make decisions about which details to include and which ones to omit.  At the same time, omitting details does not mean that you can leave out any important topics covered in the essay, nor the main claim, argument and conclusions that the article reaches.  For this class, your summaries should be approximately 150-250 words long, and only one paragraph.

3.  Structure: The summary is not necessarily structured according to the organization of the article, but according to the main material (topics and focus) it presents and the argument it makes.  This means that YOU have to understand the article, the structure of its argument, and its overall logic pretty well before you can write a summary.  In other words, don't necessarily begin your summary with the introduction of the article and end it with the conclusion. 

4.  Quotations: Don't include any quotations or close paraphrases; the summary should be entirely in your own words. 

5.  Opening Sentence: In the first sentence of the summary, begin with the author's full name (first and last), the article title in quotation marks, and give us the author's main area (narrowed topic) or question of investigation.  You may also include the author’s main claim (thesis) in your own words in the opening sentence, but that might appear in a subsequent sentence.  Be creative in varying the first sentences of your summaries rather than just following a formula.  Here is an example:  “Omar Barghouti, in ‘The Other Media War,’ argues that the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera has brought unprecedented objectivity and professionalism into news available in the Arab world, and has radically expanded the range of views available about the current US-Iraq war.”  If you are summarizing as part of an annotation, then you will not need to include the full author name and article title since it will appear in the citation above your annotation. 

6.  Thesis: Note that not all published articles will have a single-sentence thesis (main claim) you can identify and pull out from the text.  Even if an article has an explicitly stated thesis, you still have to put it in your own words.  Hint:  Often articles have numerous claims in them, so it can be difficult to pick the main one, the thesis; in trying to pick the thesis, it will be helpful to ask yourself on what question the author did the most work, either in terms of research or argumentation, and also to ask what the author's purpose was. 

7.  Attributive Tags:  After you give the author's full name (first and last name) in the opening sentence, you will have to refer to the author again in the summary.  After the first mention, use only the last name when you refer to the author subsequently (never only use an author's first name).  For example, after a few sentences, you might write, "Barghouti further argues that ..." or "He concludes by suggesting that ...."  These attributive tags make it clear to your reader that you are reporting what someone else has written or said, not that YOU are making these statements on your own behalf.

8.  Neutrality - No Opinion or Evaluation: Your summary needs to be entirely focused on reporting the content of the article.  Therefore, do not include your opinion or any other kind of evaluation about either the topic or the article.  There will be room for critique, evaluation, and response in other kinds of writing, but the summary needs to be entirely neutral.

9.  Note on APA Format:  In the body of an essay, APA asks you to use only the author’s last name followed by the year of publication in parentheses (e.g., “Barghouti (2003) argues…”).  The author’s first initial and the article title will appear on your References page.  This is the format we will use for our essays, but for a stand-alone summary, include the author’s full name and article title as in #5 above.