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Summarizing

When you summarize information, you explain the most important parts of a source text in your own words. You typically summarize something to make it shorter. The page number is not required in the in-text citation for a summary.

An effective summary—

  • explains the most important parts of the original.
  • is written in your own words.
  • keeps the original meaning.
  • does not merely cut and copy from the original.
  • is shorter than the original.

Below is an excerpt from a website article that describes water pollution. This example will be used on the next several pages to illustrate how to write a summary.

Original Source

Clean freshwater is an essential ingredient for a healthy human life, but 1.1 billion people lack access to water and 2.4 billion don't have adequate sanitation. Water becomes polluted from toxic substances dumped or washed into streams and waterways and the discharge of sewage and industrial waste. These pollutants come in many forms—organic, inorganic, even radioactive—and can make life difficult, if not impossible, for humans, animals and other organisms alike. https://edtechbooks.org/-AYzZ ("Impacts," 2018, "Water Pollution," para. 1)

Example: Summary

Organic, inorganic, and radioactive pollutants from various types of waste pollute water which complicates life for many living organisms that don't have clean water ("Impacts," 2018).

Here are some simple steps you can follow in order to create a summary:

  1. Determine your purpose.
  2. Read or listen to what you will summarize.
  3. Make a list of the main points.
  4. Write the summary.
  5. Compare the summary to the original.

Determine your purpose

The purpose of your summary will help you determine which details you should include. Compare the example summaries below. The first summary focuses on how barometers predict weather. The second summary focuses on what barometers are.

Example Source

"A barometer is a scientific instrument used to measure atmospheric pressure, also called barometric pressure. The atmosphere is the layers of air wrapped around the Earth. That air has a weight and presses against everything it touches as gravity pulls it to Earth. Barometers measure this pressure.

Atmospheric pressure is an indicator of weather. Changes in the atmosphere, including changes in air pressure, affect the weather. Meteorologists use barometers to predict short-term changes in the weather."

https://edtechbooks.org/-qFCJ

 

Example: Summary 1

Because changes in atmospheric pressure are related to the weather, meteorologists can predict the weather by measuring atmospheric pressure with a barometer (Turgeon, 2014).

 

Example: Summary 2

Meteorologists use a special tool to measure atmospheric pressure called a barometer, and this tool allows them to predict the weather (Turgeon, 2014).

Read/listen

Read or listen carefully so you understand the source well enough to summarize it.

Make a list

As you read/listen, pay attention to the main ideas and major details of the source material. You should make a list of these main points. Compare the example paragraph and the example list below.

Example: Paragraphs Example: List

A barometer is a scientific instrument used to measure atmospheric pressure, also called barometric pressure. The atmosphere is the layers of air wrapped around the Earth. The air has a weight and presses against everything it touches as gravity pulls it to Earth. Barometers can measure this pressure.

Atmospheric pressure is an indicator of weather. Changes in the atmosphere, including changes in air pressure, affect the weather. Meteorologists use barometers to predict short-term changes in the weather.

-Barometers measure atmospheric pressure.

-Atmospheric pressure is related to weather.

-Meteorologists predict the weather with barometers.

Write the summary

Without looking at/listening to the original, use your list to write your summary. Again, it is important to focus on the ideas. Use your own words to write your summary.

Example: List Example Summary

-Barometers measure atmospheric pressure.

-Atmospheric pressure is related to weather.

-Meteorologists predict the weather with barometers.

Because changes in atmospheric pressure are related to the weather, meteorologists can predict the weather by measuring atmospheric pressure with a barometer (Turgeon, 2014).

Notice how the items on the list are not just copied and pasted together into one big sentence. The ideas are connected together carefully. The order is changed a little and some of the ideas are condensed. There are different synonyms used and there are new sentence structures. For example:

Atmospheric pressure is related to weather --> changes in atmospheric pressure are related to the weather

Compare to the original

After you write your summary, you should compare it to the original. Make sure that the ideas have not been changed, but that the words/syntax are distinct. Make revisions as necessary.

Example: Paragraphs

"A barometer is a scientific instrument used to measure atmospheric pressure, also called barometric pressure. The atmosphere is the layers of air wrapped around the Earth. The air has a weight and presses against everything it touches as gravity pulls it to Earth. Barometers can measure this pressure.

Atmospheric pressure is an indicator of weather. Changes in the atmosphere, including changes in air pressure, affect the weather. Meteorologists use barometers to predict short-term changes in the weather."

 
 

Example: Summary

Because changes in atmospheric pressure are related to the weather, meteorologists can predict the weather by measuring atmospheric pressure with a barometer (Turgeon, 2014).