WRITING A READING SUMMARY
Summary writing is an essential academic skill. Cultivating this skill will increase your reading comprehension, enable you to better understand class lectures and improve your exam scores. A central element of reading comprehension is the ability to understand what you have read and to summarize it in your own words. When you summarize a text, you try to achieve an accurate, thorough understanding of it by stating its main ideas in a tightly distilled format. When you write a summary, you practice reading with the grain of the text. You listen actively to the textÕs author, showing that you understand the authorÕs point of view by restating his or her argument in your own words. A good reading summary identifies 2-3 of the major points or ideas of the reading—those points that serve to give overall structure and coherence to the reading selection. A good reading summary does not rely on sentences or phrases lifted wholesale from the text, but demonstrates that you have reflected upon what you have read, are able to identify the main ideas and to rephrase them in your own words. A good summary is 100 - 250 words; that is, no longer than two short paragraphs.
First read the selection fairly quickly for general comprehension. Then go back and re-read the text carefully, identifying 2-3 of the main ideas. Look for broad patterns, not details. For clues, look at the section headings—these are an indication of the main ideas that are discussed in that section. Look at the first and last paragraphs of chapters, which typically introduce the ideas that will be discussed and provide concluding remarks. After you have done this, take a step back and ask yourself: what is the general thrust of this reading? What is the author trying to get across? What is the overall theme or themes? What general patterns seem to be emerging? And most importantly, how would I explain what I have just read (without looking back at the text) to someone who is blind and cannot read the selection?
DonÕt copy down sentences straight from the text and string them together: use your own words to describe the gist of what you have read. DonÕt get bogged down in details of historical dates, lists of people or events—look for the overall theme that the author is trying to express.
Summaries are graded as satisfactory (check, worth 2 points), insatisfactory (zero), or partial (check minus, worth 1 point). Summaries that do not meet the criteria listed above will be marked insatisfactory and returned without credit. They may be redone for partial credit if received no later than the next class meeting.