Helping Students Summarize and Respond to Texts
Being able to accurately and effectively summarize and respond to texts is an important skill for students to develop. The following types are typically taught and practiced in our College Composition classrooms.
Types of Summaries
A summary should be accurate and while 100% objectivity isn't possible, the summary writer should strive to stay as close as possible to this position. Most importantly, the summary writer should fairly represent the author's ideas. Writers of summaries should save their own ideas and interpretations for the response, rather than including these things in the summary.
The purpose for the summary can alter how it is written. Also, the reader's needs and interests must be considered when crafting a summary. A key skill to develop for use in written summary is the ability to paraphrase (to express the author's ideas using the summarizer's own words).
There are three types of summary:
Main Point Summary
A main point summary reads much like an article abstract, giving the most important "facts" of the text. It should identify the title, author, and main point or argument. When relevant, it can also include the text's source (book, essay, periodical, journal, etc.). As in all types of summary, a main point summary uses author tags, such as "In her article, Salahub states," or "Ms. Salahub argues/explains/says/asks/suggests." These tags will make it clear which ideas are those of the author and the text being summarized, not the summarizer. This type of summary might also use a quote from the text, but the quote should be representative of the text's main idea or point. A main point summary is often used when writing academic papers as a way to introduce the reader to a source and to place the main point of that source into the context of an argument or discussion of an issue.
"In his essay Dropping the Sat? which is posted on the Affirmative Action and Diversity Project's Website, George Will considers the proposal by some that schools stop using student's SAT scores when choosing which students to admit. Mr. Will explains that at most prominent schools in America, the SAT is a key factor in determining college admissions. Mr. Will argues that the SAT is an important tool in predicting the ability of prospective students to perform in college and therefore, should continue to be a factor in college admissions."
Key Point Summary
This type of summary will have all the same features as a main point summary, but also include the reasons and evidence (key points) the author uses to support the text's main idea. This type of summary would also use direct quotes of key words, phrases, or sentences from the text. This summary is used when it is necessary for the summary writer to fully explain an author's idea to the reader. The key point summary involves a full accounting and complete representation of the author's entire set of ideas. One reason to use this sort of summary would be if the writer intended to respond to the author's argument using an agree/disagree response model. In such a case, there may be some of the author's ideas that the writer agrees with, but others with which the writer disagrees.
In his essay Dropping the Sat? which is posted on the Affirmative Action and Diversity Project's Website, George Will considers the proposal by some that schools stop using student's SAT scores when choosing which students to admit. Mr. Will explains that at most prominent schools in America, the SAT is a key factor in determining college admissions. Will argues that the SAT is an important tool in predicting the ability of prospective students to perform in college and therefore, should continue to be a factor in college admissions.
As part of his argument, Mr. Will discusses the origins of the SAT, considers the SAT's effect on campus diversity, challenges the validity of some of the common arguments against using the SAT test, and explains why he believes the SAT to be a necessary tool in determining college admissions. Mr. Will concludes that the SAT is still necessary because we need "some generally accepted means of making millions of annual assessments...roughly predictive of ability to perform well in particular colleges" (2).
This type of summary mimics the structure of the text being summarized. It includes the main points and argument in the same order they appear in the original text. This is an especially effective technique to use when the accompanying response will be analytic, such as an evaluation of the logic or evidence used in a text.
In his essay Dropping the Sat? which is posted on the Affirmative Action and Diversity Project's Website, George Will argues for the continued use of the SAT in determining college admissions. He mentions Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California, as a specific example of those who want to stop using SAT scores in their admissions process. Part of Atkinson's reasoning is that without the SAT, his school would be better able to create a more racially and ethnically diverse campus. However, George Will argues, "something must perform the predictive function assigned to the SAT" (1).
George Will goes on to discuss that the SAT was created in order to make an education at a prestigious school available not just to those who could afford it, but also to those with sufficient intellectual merit. However, he states, "[b]y purporting to measure intellectual merit, the SAT served equality of opportunity-but the result was opportunity from which not all racial and ethnic groups benefited equally" (1).
Mr. Will says that while some of the original goals of the SAT have been accomplished, it is not yet time to abandon its use. He challenges the validity of some of the most common arguments against the SAT. He suggests that there is currently no better alternative to the SAT, that we can not judge students equally according to grades alone, especially when there is no national standard or curriculum. Mr. Will concludes that the SAT is still necessary because we need "some generally accepted means of making millions of annual assessments...roughly predictive of ability to perform well in particular colleges" (2)."
Types of Responses
When teaching ways of writing a response to a text, it is helpful to consider three types of response. However, keep in mind that once the writer begins to craft an actual response, it is likely that he/she will find him/herself combining elements of more than one response type, or even using elements of all three techniques. Even so, it is beneficial in the beginning to have writers separate the techniques and learn the fundamentals of each one.
Any type or combination of responses should be supported by details, examples, facts, and evidence. This support can take the form of personal experience, evidence from the primary text, or evidence from other texts. Also, the response should focus on making a single, overall main point.
This form of response is not merely the writer's opinion. However a writer chooses to respond, he/she should show the reader how and why he/she responded to the text as he/she did. Also, in crafting a response, writers don't have to focus on one or the other. They might find that they disagree with some of the author's points, but agree with others. In that case, their response will be a combination of agreeing and disagreeing. Whether they agree or disagree, or some combination of both, the writer must support their response with details, examples, facts, and evidence. Again, this support can take the form of personal experience, evidence from the primary text, or evidence from other texts.
In this type of response, writers focus on a key passage or idea from the text, explaining and/or exploring it further. They also might reflect on their own experiences, attitudes, or observations in relation to the ideas of the text. The writer might use their response to consider how the author's ideas might be interpreted by other readers, how the ideas might be applied, or how they might be misunderstood.
This sort of response analyzes key elements of the text, such as the purpose, the audience, the thesis and main ideas, the argument, the organization and focus, the evidence, and the style. For example, how clear is the main idea? What sort of evidence is used to support the author's thesis and is it effective? Is the argument organized and logical? How are elements such as the author's style, tone, and voice working? This type of response looks at the essay in terms of the effectiveness of specific elements, whether they are working or not. Part of the writer's response might include suggestions for how the author could have made the essay more effective.