Learning how to write a summary is a valuable skill. California even includes the summary as a writing application on its CST writing exam. Learning how to teach what is and what is not a summary may be even more valuable. A summary is the one writing application that focuses equally on what should be included and what should not be included.
Definition: A summary condenses (shortens) an expository text to its main ideas and major details.
A summary is not…
- A re-tell of a story. There are no main ideas in the narrative genre. The structure of a narrative work is completely different than that of an expository work.
- An abstract. A research abstract has a different structure and purpose than say an essay.
- A review. A review is designed to report on the good and the bad. Its purpose is to opine.
- An analysis. Summaries list and explain, but do not analyze.
A summary is…
- Usually no more than one-third of the expository text length and is often much less. The length depends upon the text itself and the purpose of the summary.
- A useful, brief version that faithfully reflects the main idea(s) and major details of the expository text. Yes, there can be more than one main idea in a summary.
- Designed to inform or explain such that the readers will be able to decide whether they need or want to read the full expository text.
- Used to check the readers’ comprehension of an expository text.
- Used to reinforce the main ideas and major details of an expository text.
- A stand-alone application. It can be understood on its own and is not dependent upon the expository work from which it is developed.
- Flexible enough to condense all manner of expository text: definition, analysis, description, persuasion, classification, comparison, and more, and is found in textbooks, encyclopedias, scientific books/journals, atlases, directions, guides, biographies, newspapers, essays, manuals, directions, and more.
Prerequisite Skills to Scaffold
- Don’t include what is not in the expository text. A summary should be like an umbrella, designed to cover the subject and nothing beyond the subject.
- Don’t comment on, analyze, or offer opinion.
- Don’t compare to another subject beyond the information provided in the expository text.
- Don’t write in first or second person.
- Don’t ask questions.
- Don’t use bullets or any form of outline. A summary is not simply a list of ideas.
- Don’t refer to the summary itself. For example, “This summary is about…”
- Maintain a consistent author’s voice that is clear, concise, yet impersonal.
- Write in third person.
- Include passive voice, if needed to emphasize objectivity.
- Mimic the organizational pattern of the expository work. If cause-effect, chronological, reasons-based, reflect that presentation in your summary. Structure often communicates meaning.
- Write in your own words, but when the original author’s words are the most concise presentation of the main ideas or details you should quote and properly cite.
- Use sentence variety. An effective summary is never boring.
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