Writing Like a Pro: Summary
A summary is a rather utilitarian paper, so you should always bear in mind its primary goal – give the reader a clear understanding of what the article is about and what the author meant to get across. That is why you should be very concise, clear, and up to the point. (see the sample summary in Unit 1, ‘Writing like a Pro’ section)
To write a good summary, you need to take the following steps:
1) Identify the topic of the article.
e.g. the role of US diplomacy
2) Identify the thesis of the article.
The thesis is the author’s main message. If you stop and think why the author took the trouble to write the article, you are most likely to arrive at the thesis. A thesis statement always conveys the author’s precise opinion on the topic of the article. It cannot be just an observation or a question.
Tip: if there could be several articles on the same topic, different authors may have different ideas on the issue.
e.g. Topic: the role of US diplomacy
Thesis of Article A: The author states that Americans tend to underestimate the importance of diplomacy in the history of their country; however, doing it justice may help restore American diplomatic capacity.
Thesis of Article B: The author posits that Americans tend to praise their diplomatic efforts; however, it is usually military power that they resort to in conducting foreign affairs.
3) Identify the author’s arguments
After formulating the thesis, ask yourself a question “How does the author prove the thesis?” and find all the arguments that are provided to support it.
Tip: Don’t try to find an argument in each paragraph. Some authors develop one argument within a few paragraphs.
4) Write your summary
• Introductory paragraph
The first introductory paragraph is rather clichéd: it gives the details of the article (the title, the author, the source), the topic, and the thesis.
e.g. The article by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr published on www.chasfreeman.net on 5 April 2018 is concerned with the role of US diplomacy. The author states that Americans tend to underestimate the importance of diplomacy in the history of their country; however, doing it justice may help restore American diplomatic capacity.
• Body paragraphs
Make sure you start each paragraph with the topic sentence, which is further developed and supported. The topic sentence embodies an argument the author provides to support the thesis.
Tip: Remember that the number of body paragraphs in a summary is not set in tablets of stone, and does not have to be, or rather should not be the same as in the article. If you can group the author’s ideas as challenges and solutions, or causes and consequences, or advantages and disadvantages, then go for it and structure your summary accordingly.
Many students ask how long a summary should be. The answer is: concise, i.e. reflecting the main ideas and arguments and devoid of any excess details, examples, statistics, etc. There is no limit as for the word count, but approximately one third of the input text would do.
Another sensitive point is the conclusion. You should remember that a summary is a sum-up of someone else’s written paper, so it does not need any conclusion unless the author gives a new idea at the end of the article. If this is the case, make a reference to the author,
e.g. In the conclusion the author emphasizes… NOT: In conclusion,…
- Make 2-3 references to the author throughout the body of the summary.
- Give the author’s full name in the introductory paragraph (e.g. James Smith). Further refer to the author by his/her last name (e.g. Smith)
- Rephrase and remember to be succinct.
- Leave out unimportant things (examples, details).
- Process the text logically. Find out the author’s main arguments. Draw a mind map of the text to help you structure its ideas. Remember, even renowned authors can beat about the bush or return to the previously expressed idea, which should be avoided in a summary.
- Make use of the vocabulary which would illustrate your analytical work done with the text. For example, the author singles out the following reasons/ causes/ complications etc. Or, the author identifies the problem areas/ the challenges, etc.
- Use linkers such as Firstly/ Secondly/ Thirdly/Finally/ Last but not least ONLY to list items of the same order if they are mentioned in the thesis statement or in the topic sentence of a body paragraph (this could be a list of solutions, benefits, measures, etc.)
- e.g. The author suggests a number of solutions to the present economic downturn caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
- Firstly, restrictive measures should be gradually relieved in the less affected regions.(…)
- Secondly, more funds should be allocated to local small enterprises. (…)
- Focus exclusively on the author’s ideas, his/her approach to the issue raised in the article.
- Make too many references (e.g. each paragraph), or none at all.
- Refer to the author as Mr. / Ms…. (e.g. Mr. Smith).
- Use the author’s language.
- Retell all the examples, descriptions, unimportant details.
- Stick to the same order of laying out the information as is used in the article if the author recycles the same idea throughout the text.
- Use sequencers such as first, after that, then, the author goes on to say, at the beginning of the first/ second paragraph, etc. They will turn your attempted summary into a mere retelling, and this is the last thing we would like to arrive at.
- Use linkers Firstly/ Secondly/ Thirdly to start each new paragraph just because it is the first/ second/ third paragraph in the body of your summary.
- Introduce your personal opinion or an element of subjectivity.
Imagine the reader has not read the article. Be reader-friendly, mention all the important information, leave out unnecessary details, avoid any ambiguity. Focus on this tip while proofreading!
- To introduce the topic
The article entitled [Title] by [Author’s Name] published in [Newspaper/ Magazine/ Journal] on [Date] deals with/ is concerned with/ studies/ explains/ explores/ analyzes/ considers the problem/ the issue of…
- To introduce the thesis
The author claims/posits/argues/states/advocates the idea that…
The author warns/cautions/explains etc.
- To connect paragraphs
Another reason for …
A further indication of …
Another implication of…
At the same time…
On the other hand…
- To connect ideas within a paragraph
Moreover (puts more weight on the argument)
Besides/ also/ furthermore/ apart from that (add another item)
Firstly, secondly, thirdly (list items of the same order)
- To make a reference to the author
states/ explains/ provides an argument/ posits/ suggests/ advocates the idea/ argues/ points out
holds the view/ concludes/ admits/ challenges the view/ concedes/ considers/ implies/ insists
presents the idea/ proves/ rejects/ opposes the belief / maintains/ criticizes/ dismisses the criticism/ emphasizes/ disagrees/ questions the validity of the view/ lists solutions/ advantages, etc.