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Summary Notes: Practicing Summary Writing

There are many types of summaries.  Let’s define a summary as description of another person’s work.  We can summarize anything: a film, a novel, a commercial on television.  We could summarize an event:

What happened?
A tornado ripped through the neighborhood.

If you’re asked to write a summary of another work, an essay, a film, an academic study, you’re typically being asked to write an accurate description of it and to avoid any expression of opinion or interpretation, unless you’re asked to respond with an opinion or position of your own.  This may require the use of technical information, quotation or paraphrase.  Thoroughness and accuracy are important to a summary.  Summary is often the first step to analysis, because you need to be able to describe the thing you’re judging.

In this exercise you’ll want to do a number of things to practice for the first summary paper and the rhetorical analysis that follows it:

Part 1

1. Find a substantial paragraph in Osterman’s Good Jobs essay or in Plato’s dialogue, Crito, and rewrite it in your own words.  This is called paraphrase.  In this you must accurately express the content of the paragraph.  Try to use the same number of sentences as the original.  If the original includes a quotation from another author, use this kind of language “the author quotes an author” and then continue paraphrasing. If the article contains some amount of data, use this language: “The author uses data [from]” then state the source or “The author uses data [but does not include its source]” If the paragraph contains an example as supportive evidence then write something like this: “The author uses an example to support his or her argument that [then explain the argument or point]”
2. Now take the same paragraph and accurately express its meaning in your own words with just two sentences.
3. Now take the same paragraph and express it in one sentence, capturing the “essential meaning” of the whole paragraph.
4. Repeat step 2 above but this time insert a quotation from the paragraph to illustrate the accuracy of your summary.  Use a simple tag clause.  Use this formula:

Sentence one . . .

The author writes, “ . . . ”

Concluding sentence.

5. Now try to compose things with more structure, thinking about beginning your paragraph summary with a lead or topic sentence that captures the “essential meaning” of the whole paragraph, then provide an illustrating quote.  Follow this by a sentence that begins with the words “In addition”.  The question here is what should logically follow?

Now do the same thing with another paragraph in the same essay, repeating steps 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

The above should provide you with a little practice at manipulating paragraphs.  This is just a first step in understanding that you can condense ideas in paragraphs.  But what about several paragraphs and whole essays and even books or works of philosophy? This is our goal, really.

Part 2

Next try this.  Consider Osterman’s essay as a whole and the title Good Jobs.

And some study questions:

1. In a brief paragraph explain why you think Osterman decided on Good Jobs: Three Reasons There Aren’t More as the title.  If you think this is obvious, then this should be simple. Or in a brief paragraph, explain the significance of the title.
2. Identify an area in the essay that expresses Osterman’s thesis or claim.  Does the title help at all?  Does Osterman directly express a “thesis” (remember that a thesis is an expression of the author’s Position+Reason||Examples)?  Can we identify precisely and accurately where Osterman tells the audience what he wants or what his purpose is?
3. Regardless of the thesis or claim, can you identify areas in the essay where Osterman provides arguments in favor of what he wants?  Identify these areas using “summary.”
4. If  Osterman does have a purpose how would you sum it all up in three sentences?

Now give this a go on your own.  Find an opinion piece is a newspaper (from here for example or from here)  and apply Parts 1 and 2 to it.  This should give you lots to study.  If you’re not sure where to find an opinion piece, try following this link and look around some: Opinions at the Courant.

Part 3

Plato in the Crito details the arguments of the Laws to Crito’s proposal that he escape. Getting bogged down by all the reasons why Crito thinks this is a good idea may not be a very good method for writing a summary because we want to boil down the work’s essence for the audience.  So, we might ask, what’s the bottom line, at least for our purpose here? It might be a good idea to summarize Crito, on the other hand, around one of it’s significant themes, such as the notion of contracts or the relationship between citizens and their residence or even the relationship between people and the law or even the notion of obligations (the list could be long). In a more extended analysis, you could examine contemporary relationships against any one of these frames. So try this:

1. Identify a significant theme in Crito and give it a good round up in a paragraph. This paragraph could be pretty lose and sketchy. You might need a couple of sentences to explain the theme, it’s context, and the situation in which it arises in the dialogue as a whole. You know, what’s the significant of the theme or idea to whole work (remember what a summary is for).

2. Next identify a quotation from the Crito that illustrates the idea or theme and write this quotation into the paragraph with a simple phrase, such as Plato writes or Socrates says and then write the quote, like: [Topic Sentence] Plato writes, “There are persons who at no great cost are willing to save you and bring you out of prison; and as for the informers, you may observe that they are far from being exorbitant in their demands; a little money will satisfy them.” [Statement of Explanation or Relevance]