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Playing with Summary and Analysis

In Composition and other courses you probably learned to take a longer work and write about it in the form of a summary, a shorter version that accurately describes it to an audience.  A good summary is built on reasonable judgement of a work, accurate representation, and precision in paraphrase and quotation. It doesn’t necessarily make a judgement about the subject work, but it certainly can.  We do summary, in either essay or rhetorical form, because its important to a kinds of writing that: 1) draws from and accurately represents the ideas of other people 2) identifies, describes, refutes or evaluates other, perhaps differing points of view 3) arranges other ideas along with your own in a helpful and readable way to an audience.

Let’s practice some of these issues in some study notes that ask you to think about structure, to concentrate on the rhetorical methods of others, and to set up analysis with summary.

Part 1: Playing with Paragraph Patterns

Consider Kieth Barry’s article in Wired Magazine on job creation. Note that the article’s paragraphs are short (reflecting the kind of article) and that it is much concerned with a report by Smart Growth America.

1. Here are two paragraphs (where Barry uses “expert opinion” as a form of evidence):

One reason public transit got short shrift in the stimulus package and some policymakers don’t see the merit of such projects is the misconception that transit projects aren’t “shovel-ready,” and — as a result — job growth would lag. The report proves that myth wrong.

“In today’s environment, there are so many public transportation needs, and as a result there are so many public transportation projects that are ready to go, there’s no difference in the spend rates between roads and public transportation,” Schroeer said.

In a word processed page write these paragraphs word for word two times and think about the structure of each sentence.  Next, take the last sentence of the first paragraph above and move it to the front of the same paragraph. Next take the second paragraph and turn it into the first paragraph, flipping the order of the paragraphs.  After you do this  ( you can just do this by cutting and pasting), go back to the original article and write a little bit about how moving the paragraph around alters the meaning of that section of the essay.  Briefly explain the change or lack of change.

2. Now that your hands are somewhat warmed up, let’s try a few more things.  Consider the two paragraphs above again and think about why Barry has written them.  What’s his reason for writing: “One reason public . . . ” and then quoting from Schroeer? What idea, argument, or point is this “reason” developing in the context of the essay? Once you think you have a handle on the idea, reason, or point, write it up in a sentence: you could use this sort of language: “Barry develops” or “Barry attempt to explain” or “Barry argues that” or “In his essay, Barry makes a point about.” If you need two sentences that’s okay.  Now do this: take your interpretation and turn it into a topic or lead sentence.  Write this as the first sentence of a paragraph, then rewrite the two paragraphs just like you did in the first question above and ask yourself what it is that you are trying to convey to an audience. Something about Barry’s use of information, I would suppose.  This paragraph pattern is: Topic/lead sentence + evidence.

3.  One more thing to try, imagining that this is the first time you are presenting Barry in a larger composition about the relationship between employment and jobs. Try this paragraph pattern: signal + lead + evidence. Can you figure it out?

4.  Now ask an analysis question: does Barry or Schroeer present any evidence in support of this statement:  “‘In today’s environment, there are so many public transportation needs, and as a result there are so many public transportation projects that are ready to go, there’s no difference in the spend rates between roads and public transportation,’ Schroeer said.” If  the evidence exists, list it in your notes as an answer to this question. Do you think it’s sufficient? If not enough or no evidence is presented, how should we judge the value of Schroeer as “evidence” for Barry?

Part 2: Building a Summary by Thinking about Analysis

Remember that in my use of the term analysis I mean the evaluation of sources, position, arguments, and their support.  Summaries, though, as an assignment (Go summarize this film, for example) may not ask for evaluation. For our purposes, we want to write summaries because we can’t just plunk an entire source into an argument we want to make and expect our audience to take us seriously.  In addition, we want to write summaries to practice critical analysis by understanding what it is we want to evaluate.  So, try these things:

We want to do repeated practice on describing how authors use information for evidence and how they use appeals. Samples of this language look like: Author A uses data to support this or that argument or: Author A uses numerous examples to prove a point.  Then we follow the sentence with an application of standard relevant to that data or examples.  See this page for the relevant standards.  Being able to summarize well makes the object of evaluation easier to find.  So, let’s do some simple composition practice:

1.  Consider this passage from Christian Parenti’s article Soaring Food Prices, Wild Weather and a Planetful of Trouble, “As global wheat prices surged by 70 percent between June and December 2010, bread consumption in Egypt started to decline under what economists termed ‘price rationing.’ And that price kept rising all through the spring of 2011. By June, wheat cost 83 percent more than it had a year before.”  Rewrite the three sentences in this pattern (Fill in the [brackets] with the appropriate information and the “quotes” with the appropriate quote.):

Christian Parenti uses statistics to demonstrate [what’s being demonstrated with statistics]. He writes, “. . .”

2. Now rewrite the paragraph again but use four other verbs in the place of  “demonstrates.”

3. Now find a place where Parenti uses an example as evidence.  Write this pattern:

Christian Parenti uses examples to demonstrate [what’s being demonstrated with statistics]. He writes, “. . .”

4. Now rewrite the paragraph again but use four other verbs in the place of  “demonstrates.”  In addition to changing the verbs, use a different method for the quote.  Try two of the new paragraphs with a different arrangement for “He writes” and try two versions of the new paragraphs written using paraphrase. The verb you use might be used to characterize the author’s attitude or rhetorical method, “uses humor to illustrate . . .”

5. Answer this question: what evidence does Parenti provide to illustrate the development of  “food imperialism?”