Writing Summaries help you organize material and improve writing skills

Many students hate writing summaries almost as much as they hate outlining. But TAKE ANOTHER LOOK.  Writing a summary of something you are interested in isn’t so bad. In fact, when you tell a friend about something you just read, something you heard, or something you saw on television, your account leaves out many unimportant details. You try to include the main ideas and most interesting details. This conversation is a spoken summary.

A Spoken Summary is a good way to review what you are studying

It is important that you are intentional. If you want to tell a friend about what you read or saw or heard, you would need to

  •  pay close attention
  • identify the main ideas
  • select several of the most interesting or important details

Then you will find an appropriate time and place and begin. I read the most interesting book last night. It’s about a woman who was born with all sorts of birth defects. She actually found a way to rebuild her own brain. Let me tell you about it.  (This, of course, is your introduction.)

You do something similar in a written introduction. You begin by writing a brief overview of the topic and you should make it sound really exciting.

Then you tell or write the details point by point, starting with all the terrible problems she had, explaining what led up to her discovery that she could build herself a better brain and how she did it.

Finally, you share (the conclusion) the amazing thing she discovered and what she did with her discovery.  It sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

If you decided to tell this story to your class or as part of a public speaking class, you would be likely to prepare more formally. You would probably begin with an outline and include a couple of quotes that were especially interesting. You might also write out your introduction and conclusion so you get off to a great start and you have the best possible ending.

Writing a summary as an essay

If you decide to write an essay on this topic, you would do the same thing. You would write a brief outline and a few quotes.

The written summary should always include four parts:

  • a good title, one that arouses interest in the subject
  • an introduction that explains the topic and how it  is interesting or important
  • a series of main ideas, (at least one paragraph for each) with examples or details
  • a conclusion,  maybe explaining how this is important. A summary (going back over the main ideas is acceptable, but a conclusion that adds to the essay is best.

Writing Summary as a strategy for mental processing (Study)

There are two ways to use a summary in studying.

1. A spoken or mental summary

You can read a section of a chapter and summarize it mentally. In the reading strategy, SQ3R, this is the second R. SQ3R is “Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. Reciting is  mentally summarizing what you read. It is a way of making sure you know and understand the main ideas. It’s like checking to see how well you could explain this to someone else.

2. Writing a summary

The second way to use a summary takes longer but the learning lasts much longer. You can summarize in writing. The basic steps include:

1.  You might decide to begin with a brief outline, listing the main ideas.

2.  Begin by writing the book title or class, the chapter, pages and date.
History 201, chapter 7, pp. 67-84, 3/12/13

3.  Your title could be the section heading or something accurately describing the topic.

4.  The introduction should be a 1-3 sentence summary of the topic.

5.  The main ideas should each have at least a paragraph. The material would be so clearly explained that you wouldn’t need to look at this part of the book again. All important ideas are in the summary, BUT your summary should be much shorter than the section in your book.

6.  Each new vocabulary term should be defined.

7.  The conclusion  sums up the entire chapter or section of reading in a few sentences.

8. You might add your response including how this is important, how it answers a question you asked, further questions raised in this chapter, or your general response to what you learned… such as, this makes it easier to understand today’s lecture… or The author could really have written this in a way that is easier to understand.

How will you use the summary you have written?

1. Even if you never look at it again, simply the act of writing the summary will help you understand the material better and remember in longer.

2. Reading the summary before going to sleep and then going back over it regularly (see scheduled reviews) will take little time and will store the information in your long-term memory. Only a brief review, using the summary, will prepare you well for an exam. NO CRAMMING is required.

3. If you continue to review important material occasionally, you can remember it for the rest of your life or for as long as you want to remember it. You will no longer forget most of what you learned within weeks or months after taking the exam.

4. Writing summaries will prepare you better than any other method for an essay test or essay question.

5. Writing summaries will probably improve your basic writing skills.

Would you like to read the summary of how Barbara Arrowsmith Built herself a new mind? This example of a summary is interesting to read and will provide an example of a well-written summary.                Summary of Building a New Mind

If you would like to read an outline of the same material:   Outline of Building a New Mind

If you would like to read the page on outlining:                   Outline

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