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Guidelines for Summarizing

You may not think of yourself as a researcher, but you probably do research quite often, especially
if you have to make a major decision. When you decided which college to attend or whenever you
have made a major purchase (for example, bought a car, computer, or cell phone), you likely did
some comparison-shopping. This IS research. You ARE a researcher.
When you talk about the results of your research, you almost certainly mention only important
details (otherwise, you would risk boring your listener). In terms of research writing, this type of
reporting is called summarizing. Researchers use summaries to indicate that they have done their
homework; that is, they have read up on the topic they are discussing.
In summarizing the work of someone else, researchers restate the information presented as
concisely and objectively as possibleboth to demonstrate their understanding of the material and
to establish their credibility. However, they may have more specific reasons for using summaries.
They may use summarized information as support for their own views, as an explanation, or as an
example of an opinion they would like to contest.
Depending on your own purpose, you may decide to summarize either an entire source (a book,
for example) or just part of it (a chapter). Not all sources are print sources, so you might also
summarize a film, a game, or a song. Regardless of the size or type of your source, you may find
it useful to follow these guidelines for writing a summary.

Summarizing Steps to Follow

1. Read or review the source closely.
Highlight main ideas.
Consider the purpose of the source.
2. Determine the structure of the source (chunk it).
Divide the source material into parts, sections, or stages of thought. If the source
is a print source, use the authors paragraphs to help you. Sometimes you will be
able to consider each paragraph as a separate "chunk"; other times you should
consider groups of paragraphs.
3. Write function statements that answer this question: What is the author
doing in this paragraph, part, or section?
Function statements do more than restate the content of the source; they capture the
authors purpose or intention. An author may introduce a topic, provide background
information, present contrasting viewpoints, refute another writers position, or
draw conclusions based on experience or evidence provided. The words and phrases
you use to indicate who the author is and what he or she is doing are called
attributive tags (because they attribute information to a source). For more
information on attributive tags, consult The Writers World, chapter 16.
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4. State the writers thesis (central idea) or purpose in one or two

sentences, which is referred to as a Function Statement.
When you introduce the thesis or purpose, be sure to include the authors name
and the title of the source. Heres an example:
In Mind the Gap: Digital Divide as the Civil Rights Issue of the New
Millennium, Andy Carvin argues that the gap between those who have
access to information technology and those who do not is one of the top
civil rights issues for our information-based economy (254).
Be sure to provide unambiguous pronouns when you refer to a source. If you
write In Jen Nortons new book, she argues for election reform, she does not
necessarily refer to Jen Norton. To make the reference clearer, put the authors
name before the verb: In her new book, Jen Norton argues for election reform.
5. Using the Function Statements you created, draft your summary.
The standard way to begin a summary is to state the writers thesis or purpose.
Sometimes writers will include some context for the summary before the
statement, but such context is not always necessary.
Follow your introductory statement with function statements that reflect the
chronological or logical order of the source material. You will probably need to
revise the function statements you originally wrote in step three to fit into your
summary paragraph(s). Remember that the summary is not just a list. You must
not only mention ideas but also explain the connections between them. In other
words, avoid writing that the author stated this and then the author stated that and
next the author mentioned so and so. Heres an example of the types of links in
thought you should account for:
Jillson discusses various views on the work ethic of most Americans. He
focuses on positions taken by several social theorists to prove his point
that most Americans spend more time working than taking care of their
personal lives. To support his view, Jillson cites statistics indicating that
on average Americans work more than citizens of other industrialized
countriesand play less.
6. Ask others to read your summary and indicate any possible areas of
confusion. Use this feedback to revise your initial draft.


Summarizing Assignment
Follow steps 1-4 and write your own Function Statements for Doubts about
Doublespeak: do this for each of the 14 paragraphs on a separate sheet of paper.
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