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A summary is a condensed account of the essential information in a communication. The communication may be an essay, or a speech, report, story, or textbook. Regardless of the form or length of the original communication, the summary is limited to the essential ideas in the original communication.
Being able to write a summary is useful to you in many ways. First, summarizing is an effective study skill. Summarizing increases your understanding of the materials you read because, in order to summarize, you must sort out the relationship among the ideas in the materials. Also, once you have stated the ideas in your own words, as you do in writing a summary, you can usually recall the ideas at a later time.
Second, a summary is often a necessary part of a longer composition, such as a theme or book report. Both composition forms may include a summary of the literary work you are to analyze or evaluate.
Third, the skills you use in selecting the essential ideas in the materials you read are the same skills you use in taking notes on the ideas in books and documents in order to write a research paper. Such notes require you to sort out the ideas that relate to your own topic and to condense, combine, and communicate those ideas, usually in your own words.
A summary should be written almost entirely in your own words. A summary of an essay should be a single paragraph.
A. Your first obligation in writing a summary is to make clear to your reader that you are explaining another author’s work. You do this by giving the title of the essay you are summarizing and the name of its author.
B. You must be sure that you state the controlling idea of the essay. You can usually use the first sentence of your summary to give the title and author of the essay and also to state the controlling idea.
C. You must also be sure to explain each major point that the author uses to develop the controlling idea. Each major point is essential in proving the idea. A summary must contain all of the essential information—the controlling idea, major points, and important supporting details—included in the original essay. You need to select the most important details and explain these details in fewer words than the author used.
D. When you state another author’s ideas in your own words, you are paraphrasing the ideas. To paraphrase, you must first interpret an idea and then state the same idea precisely and accurately in different words than those used by the author.
E. Like other compositions, a summary should be brought to a close with a concluding statement which restates the controlling idea of the essay and makes clear that you are explaining another author’s work.

Select one of the essays you will be given and read it very carefully, underlining the important points of the essay. Write a single-paragraph summary of the essay. Your summary should be no longer than 250 words.

Essential Message
A good summary answers the reader’s implied question: “What point(s) is the original making?” We have just seen that the essential message is the minimum needed for the reader to understand the issue. It is the sum of the significant points—and only the significant points—extracted from the original. Significant points include controlling ideas (thesis statements and topic sentences); major findings and interpretations; important names, dates, statistics, and measurements; and major conclusions or recommendations. They do not include background discussions; the author’s personal comments, digressions, or conjectures; introductions, explanations, lengthy examples, graphic illustrations, long definitions, or date of questionable accuracy.
Nontechnical Style
Because summaries are written to save the reader’s time, more people probably will read your summary than the entire original. Therefore, aim your style at a general reading audience. To ensure clarity, write at the lowest level of technicality. Translate technical terms and complex data into plain English; for example, if the original states: “For twenty-four hours, the patient’s serum glucose measured a consistent 240 mg%,” you might rephrase: “For twenty-four hours, the patient’s blood-sugar level remained critically high.” An unclear message is useless. When you do know fairly specifically the kinds of people who will read the report, keep these people in mind. If they are experts or informed, you won’t need to simplify as much. However, you are safer to risk oversimplifying than to risk confusing your reader.
Independent Meaning
In meaning, as well as in style, your summary should be clear; it should be a complete logical unit. Your reader should have to read the original only for further details, examples, or illustrations—not to make sense out of your message.
No New Data
Your job is to represent the original faithfully. Avoid personal comments or judgmental statements (“This interesting report . . .” or “I strongly agree with this last point,” etc.). In short, write nothing that is not found in the original.
Introduction-Body-Conclusion Structure
A summary is structured like most good writing.
1. It begins with a clear statement of the controlling idea. The thesis statement of the original is rephrased as the topic sentence of the summary.
2. It presents the significant supporting details in the same order as they appear in the original.
3. It closes with a detailed statement of conclusions and recommendations, which refers back to the controlling idea and ties the major supporting details together.
This structure is made coherent, within and between parts, by transitional words (however, in addition, while, therefore, although, in contrast, etc.). The summary process is the reverse of the long report or essay process: the essay or report writer develops specific details and examples to support and clarify the essential message; in contrast, the summary writer lifts the essential message out of its context of specific details to make a concise and independent unit.
Because a summary is, above all, concise (saying a great deal in a few words), it must communicate in a fraction of the original length. However, the content of each original differs: some contents are highly technical; some are abstract; some are quantitative, some qualitative; others are argumentative, descriptive or narrative. Therefore, we can’t set a rule for summary length. All we can say is that it must be short enough to be economical, and long enough to be clear, complete, and meaningful. It is better to have a long and meaningful summary than a short and meaningless one.
Writing the Summary
You will write a summary of your own work only after completing the original. Follow these step-by-step instructions to pare down any longer piece—your own or someone else’s—and to polish it to the point of precision:

  1. Read the entire original. When summarizing another’s work, read the entire piece before jotting down a word. In this way, you will get a complete picture. You have to understand the original fully before you can summarize it effectively.

2. Reread and underline. Reread the original two or three times, underlining significant points (usually found in the topic sentences of individual paragraphs). If the piece is in a book, journal, or magazine that belongs to someone else, write the points on a separate sheet of paper instead of underlining them.

Try to identify the key sentence, which states the controlling idea of the original. Omit all minor supporting details such as introductions, explanations, illustrations, examples, and definitions.
3. Edit the underlined data. Reread the underlined material and cross out needless words. Leave only phrases that you can later rewrite in your own words, combining them into sentences.

4. Rewrite in your own words. Rewrite the edited, underlined material in your own words, following the original order of presentation. Include all important data in the first draft, even if you use too many words; you can always trim them later. Avoid judgmental comments (“The author is correct in assuming. . .” and add no outside data. Your job is to represent, not to amplify, the original.

5. Edit your own version. When you are sure that you have everything the reader needs, edit your own version, aiming for the most clarity with the least words.
a. Cross out all your own needless words without compromising clarity. Do not delete “a,” “an,” or “The” from any of your writing. Express all statements in grammatically complete sentences.
The summer internship program in journalism gives the journalism student first-hand experience at what goes on within the system a real newspaper staff.
b. Cross out needless prefaces such as “The writer argues . . .” or “The researchers discovered . . .” or “Also discussed is . . .” Present the information simply and directly.
c. Use numerals for numbers, except when a beginning a sentence.
d. Try to incorporate related ideas through subordination within longer sentences.
Choppy Sentences
The occupational outlook for journalists is good. There was a 53 percent increase in journalism jobs between 1947 and 1975. The national job increase was only 41 percent. Indications point to a continuation of this trend. This is partly due to an increase in weekly newspapers.
The occupational outlook for journalists is good, as evidenced by the 53 percent increase in journalism jobs between 1947 and 1975, in contrast with a national job increase of only 41 percent. Indications point to a continuation of this trend which is partly due to an increase in weekly newspapers.
Notice that five short sentences are combined into two longer ones.
6. Check your version against the original. When your own version is tightened and refined, check it against the original to make sure that you have preserved the essential message, followed the original order, and added no extraneous comments or data.

7. Rewrite your edited version. Rewrite, following an introduction-body-conclusion structure. Add transitional words and phrases to reinforce the logical connection between related ideas (“X therefore Y” implies that X is related to Y in a cause-and-effect relationship.

8. Document your source. If you are summarizing another’s work, identify the source in a bibliographical note immediately following the summary, and place directly quoted statements within quotation marks.
When summarizing your own information, eliminate steps 1 and 8. Otherwise, the procedure is identical. You should find this technique immediately useful in preparing for essay examinations.
Because no one enjoys reading disorganized blather, you have a responsibility to your reader to prepare a concise and readable summary. In a sense, a good summary should function like a digital clock: it should save mental operations (“The big hand is on the 2 and the little on the 11; therefore, it is 11:10”) by giving and immediate reading. Your readers should get what they need, immediately and effortlessly.
Sample Summary
In the essay “Third Parties and Reform,” Mary Lou Conlin says that although the United States Supposedly has a two-part political system, third parties are responsible for starting “the three major reform movements of the twentieth century.” The Workingmen’s Party began the movement to better the status of the working man. The party called for shorter working hours, free education, an end to imprisonment for debt, and a law that would force employers to pay workers the wages they had earned. When the party gained enough votes, the Democratic party decided to back the forms the working men wanted. Since then, the Democratic Party has carried on the movement to improve conditions for its working class members. The Free-Soil Party, in backing the abolition of slavery, began the civil rights movement. The Republican Party took up and successfully supported this cause through a Constitutional amendment that did away with slavery. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have since carried on the civil rights movement. The Populist Party began the movement to control business practices. First the Republicans and then the Democrats backed the reforms wanted by the Populists, and both parties have since carried on the movement to reform business practices. According to the author of “Third Parties and Reform,” the twentieth-century reform movements to improve working conditions, ensure people their civil rights, and control business practices were started by the third parties known as the Workingmen’s Party, the Free-Soil Party, and the Populist Party [Approximately 240 words].

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