Writing - part 1

Writing a Summary

A summary or Writing a summary is intended to highlight objectively the main points of another writer's work. Although written in your own words, the summary does not include your opinions of the piece you are considering. Since the summary eliminates those details that are not needed to convey the major points, it is naturally shorter than the original. In general, a summary is from one fourth to one half the length of the original.

To summarize an essay, article, or a book, you should

  • Not include your own thoughts on the matter.
  • Describe the essay as objectively as possible, whether you agree with it or not.
  • Read about paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting in your handbook before you begin your summary. You must understand the differences between paraphrase, quotation, and plagiarism.

The problem we all face when attempting to summarize a piece of writing is figuring out what to include and what to leave out. Below are some tips on how to choose material to include in your summary.

  • Cross out the less important details.
  • Underline topic sentences and key ideas.
  • Take notes on those key ideas--jot down the information that clarifies the topic sentence, for example.

When you summarize, you might try following these steps:

  • Read the piece for understanding first. Never summarize as you read the article for the first time.
  • Before you begin to write, check the topic sentences and key words (words that are underlined, italicized, or capitalized). These will clue you in on main ideas.
  • Jot down the organization of the original and follow that pattern in your summary.
  • Check your summary to be sure you have been objective. Your opinions are not part of the original
  • Check your summary to be sure that you have properly documented any words or phrases that you have taken from the original.
  • Identify your summary and its source. Some instructors will ask that you do this as part of the title of the piece; others will request a footnote.

A Summary of Shakespeare's Hamlet

One way of discovering the overall pattern of a piece of writing is to summarize it in your own words. The act of summarizing is much like stating the plot of a play. For instance, if you were asked to summarize the story of Shakespeare's Hamlet, you might say:
It's the story of a young prince of Denmark who discovers that his uncle and his mother have killed his father, the former king. He plots to get revenge, but in his obsession with revenge he drives his sweetheart to madness and suicide, kills her innocent father, and in the final scene poisons and is poisoned by her brother in a duel, causes his mother's death, and kills the guilty king, his uncle.
This summary contains a number of dramatic elements: a cast of characters (the prince; his uncle, mother, and father; his sweetheart; her father, and so on), a scene (Elsinore Castle in Denmark), instruments (poisons, swords), and actions (discovery, dueling, killing).
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