Academic Summary: Listening to the Conversation

Overview. Students write summaries in college classes for a variety of purposes, including allowing instructors to assess students' understanding of texts. We will practice this important kind of academic writing in this assignment.

Purpose. Your purpose in writing a summary of an article is to demonstrate to your instructor that you have read the article closely. You will need to retell, objectively and concisely, the writer’s argument (thesis and reasons).

Audience. Your CO150 instructor. Your reader is, therefore, very familiar with the article. She will expect that your summary is accurate and objective, and will know if it is not.

Subject. Choose one of the following New York Times articles by Michael Pollan to summarize:

  1. "Our National Eating Disorder" 17 Oct. 2004
  2. "Mass Natural" 4 June 2006
  3. "You Are What You Grow" 22 April 2007

Strategies. To achieve your purpose with your audience, use these strategies.

Format: [Instructors, add your formatting requirements here. Typically, instructors ask that the summary be double-spaced, with a readable 11- or 12-point font, with reasonable margins, etc. Also, indicate what identification you want from students (name, date, course #, etc.)]. Turn in your summaries with other materials specified in class.
Length: about 1 double-spaced page
Worth: 5% of your final course grade.
Due: Beginning of week 3

Grading Criteria
Your instructor will ask these questions as she grades your summary. They are listed in order of importance.

Purpose/Audience: Does the summary convince the reader that the writer has read the article closely and understands its argument?

Conventions: Has the writer observed the genre conventions of academic summary?

Summary grades will be assigned as follows.

An “A” summary will convince your reader that you have read the article closely and represent its argument well. It will not only accurately and objectively report the argument, but will focus on the article’s purpose and how the argument supports that purpose. “A” summaries rely mainly on paraphrasing but will quote key words, phrases and/or sentences effectively. The reader of an “A” summary will always be aware that the summary refers to the article because it contains frequent and varied author tags. “A” summaries will be clear and readable without distracting editing errors.

A “B” summary will also convince the reader that you have read the article closely and represent its argument well. B summaries, however, will show that the writer needs to work on communicating information more effectively. These summaries will report the thesis and reasons of the argument but could organize them more effectively. “B” summaries may also need more work on balancing quoting and paraphrasing and/or attributing information. They will be clear and readable but may need further editing for minor errors.

A “C” summary will show the writer is learning to read closely and to summarize but has more work to do achieve all of the goals of the assignment. “C” summaries will be generally accurate, though they may contain minor misreadings. These summaries may contain subjective responses to the article as well as objective information. They will show an effort to focus on the argument, but may get sidetracked by giving too many details. A summary that reports information accurately but does not effectively represent the argument will also receive a C. These summaries might need stronger organization to show how the argument’s reasons support its thesis. “C” summaries may also need more editing for readability.

A “D” summary shows an attempt toward the assignment goals that has fallen far short. These summaries will show significant problems with close reading and will not communicate effectively. “D” summaries contain serious misreadings and inaccuracies. They may not focus on reporting the argument at all but instead list information from the article. The reader of a “D” summary is convinced that the writer has only a slim grasp of close reading and summarizing. These summaries often need editing to be clear.

An “F” summary ignores the assignment, or is unreadable due to language and coherence problems, or shows little to no understanding of the article or summarizing, or is plagiarized, or is not turned in.