What does it mean “to summarize”?
A summary is a presentation of the main points, or argument, of any given piece of work in your own words. You can summarize a newspaper article, a class lecture, a book, etc. This may, at first, sound very difficult, but most of us summarize in daily life without thinking twice about it. If you’ve ever seen a film or a television program that you then shared with a friend by telling them what happened at the beginning, middle and end, and then said how you felt about what you saw, you already have plenty of experience summarizing. The trick now is to apply this experience to a summarizing assignment in a college class.
Summarizing a scholarly article or chapter is much like summarizing that film you saw and shared with a friend, except, of course, now you will be sharing with your professor. In your scholarly summary you should include the main thesis statement/argument made in the article or chapter, you should then tell the main points that the author introduces which support this statement, and then you should give your opinion about whether this argument was convincing to you and why it was, or why it was not, convincing. Treat a summary assignment like an academic opportunity to describe what you understood and thought of a particular reading.
According to Dr. John C. Bean of Seattle University, summary assignments allow students to develop key skills they need during their academic careers. These skills include reading comprehension and writing clarity and precision (Bean, 1996). By doing summary assignments you get the chance to practice and perfect these skills which will come in handy when you need to read or write for another class or on the job.
In addition, summarizing gives you the opportunity to really think about what you’ve just read and the information that you learned from it. When you summarize you distill all of the detail in a reading down to its essence, picking out the most important points that you believe the author wants you to remember.
How to summarize
To begin a summary, you must read the article, book or chapter you have been assigned to summarize. During your first reading, you should read only to find out what the author is saying. Then you should, (time and length of reading permitting), read again while keeping specific questions in mind. The questions you should ask yourself and answer in writing are:
1) What is the author trying to say in this reading,
2) How has the author supported their point and,
3) How successful, in my opinion, has the author been in making this point?
By asking yourself “What is the author trying to say in this reading?” you are on your way to discovering what the thesis statement/argument is in the reading you are about to summarize. As I said at the beginning of this paper, knowing the author’s thesis statement/argument is part of what you should add to your written summary. You should look for the thesis, generally, at the beginning or end of the first paragraph of a shorter reading, but these types of statements can appear almost anywhere in some readings. In essence, in a scholarly reading, the thesis statement/argument is the main point the author is trying to make and it is this statement that they will spend the rest of the paper/chapter/book trying to prove to the reader.
By asking yourself “How has the author supported their point?” you are beginning to tease out the things the author used to support their thesis statement/argument. This question may give you the opportunity to make a story, or narrative, of the way the author supports their point. For example, you may decide that in a social studies reading you are about to summarize that the author’s thesis statement, in your own words, is: “Different human societies have different types of roles for women and men.” You may then decide that the author supports this argument by giving examples of the various types of roles women and men play among the Kung of Botswana, the ancient Celts of Ireland, Indian society during the Middle Ages, and American society today.
But an argument supported by data, or information, does not necessarily mean that it should be accepted without thought. That is why it is important that you ask yourself “How successful, in my opinion, has the author been in making this point?” so that you can state how much you agree or disagree with the author’s argument and your reasons for your opinion. This is an important final step in any summary and should not be omitted since it will give you the opportunity to examine your own ideas about the subject presented in the reading and will allow you to think of other ways that this subject might have been discussed. By giving your own studied opinion about the argument, you are not supposed to dismiss the reading because you dislike what it says or how it is being said. Rather you are supposed to accept what the author writes as possible while also including your own ideas about the subject being presented.
Simple study skills
- Read twice.
- After you have read, write down your answers to these questions:
1) What is the author’s purpose for writing this?
2) Has the author fulfilled that purpose?
- Read all chapter summaries and test yourself with chapter questions.
- Write your own summaries and questions.
- Write down unfamiliar words and define them from the reading or in a dictionary.
- Create a double-entry journal while you read.
- Write down your reactions to a reading while you read. Ask yourself:
1) Do I agree with this? Do I disagree?
2) Does this make me feel (angry, sad, surprised, happy, etc)?
3) What don’t I understand? What do I understand?
4) Does this remind me of something that happened to me or someone I know?
- Write down the questions you have during a reading and ask your teacher or tutor to help you answer them.
Being able to navigate through the library stacks and through the library catalog is an important and useful skill to gain. Generally, at least one class you take in college will require the use of library materials in an assignment (see Research for Students), so it is imperative that you learn how to use the library in the most efficient and effective way possible.
The very first thing that every student should do is to sign up for and take one of the Hostos Library workshops that are given throughout the semester. These workshops last for about an hour and they introduce students to the use of the CUNY+ system, online data sources, and other web resources that you can use to complete a research assignment. They are free to Hostos students, faculty, and staff, so don’t hesitate to take more than one!
Quick Library Tips:
1. Ask a librarian for help — Sometimes just a short conversation with a librarian can point you in the right direction when you’re lost in the library. Make sure you have a specific question about what you want so that the librarian doesn’t have to try to guess what you need. Click here for the Hostos Library:
2. Try to use CLICS, CUNY’s Book Delivery Service (CUNY Libraries Inter-Campus Services). This is a book delivery service that lets you request a book from any CUNY library to be delivered to you at any other CUNY library. You can search for what you want using an author’s name, a title, a subject, or a call number. Give it a try by clicking here: CLICS It’s probably easier to use than you think!
3. Familiarize yourself with the library by going there and looking around. You can take the Virtual Tour of the library at Hostos to gain some sense of how the library is set up.
4. La biblioteca en el español: Informe!
5. Try searching for what you need in the New York Public Library.
Test preparation in any subject
Read all chapter summaries and test yourself with chapter questions.
If your readings do not contain summaries and questions, make up your own and study them.
Write down unfamiliar words and define them from the reading or in a dictionary.
Make a note of any words or phrases that the professor mentioned in class more than a few times. Know what these words and phrases mean.
Create your own test questions and either test yourself or get together with a study group and test each other.
Look over quizzes from the semester and review them. Sometimes questions from quizzes show up on exams.
Once you have done all, or most, of the above, get a good night’s rest, have a good breakfast and/or lunch, and go in to take that test with confidence. You can do it!
An excellent site for assistance in many areas of grammar and essay composition.