How to Summarize
Summarizing involves condensing the writer’s ideas into their essence using your own words. Use summaries when you want to briefly discuss an extended section of a text. A
summary is your "sum" of the writer’s thinking. Summaries vary in length, but are
rarely more than twenty percent of the length of the original. Summaries also include
abstracts, but abstracts are a different style of writing (see the WaLC’s website
for more advice on those.) When you need to summarize:
1. Read the section straight through from beginning to end. Look up unfamiliar words. Make sure you understand what you are reading. You cannot translate information you do not understand.
2. Minimize the screen, or turn the text over. Without looking at the original, write your summed up understanding of the section. (Not peeking at the text forces you to use your own words.)
3. Read the original text a second time to check the accuracy of your rewording. Your new sentences will become the body of your summary.
4. Using your new sentences, write a first draft of your summary.
5. Begin your summary with the original writer’s name, for example, in APA you might write: According to Deford (2000),....(See page 4 for examples from various formats.)
6. Check your draft against the original source:
• Have you accurately communicated the main idea and supporting points?
• Have you followed the same order or sequence of ideas that the original writer used?
• Have you discussed the author’s most important concepts or terms in your own words?
• Would your summary make sense to a reader other than yourself, especially one who has not read the original source but wants to understand what it says?
7. Revise and recheck against the original. Record the page number(s) in case you
need them later.
How to Paraphrase
When you paraphrase effectively, you are restating the writer’s words in your own words without condensing anything. Paraphrasing works well for discussing one point from an article or book. A good paraphrase is roughly equivalent in length to the original.
When you need to paraphrase:
1. Read the section carefully. Look up unfamiliar words.
2. Turn the original over and write down your understanding of the text. Consider beginning your paraphrase with the writer’s name, for example: "In Talk, Marguerite Del Guidice argues that..."
3. Reread the original and check your rephrasing for accuracy. Rearranging the writer’s words or just changing a few words is not paraphrasing.
4. Record the page number(s) for your in-text citation if required. All paraphrases must be cited.
How to Quote
When you quote, you are transcribing the writer’s words completely and accurately. Quoting does not work well if you use it only because you find it hard to paraphrase a writer’s material.
Quoting does work well when the writer has made his or her point so articulately that your point
is strengthened by including a quotation.
Follow the guidelines in any writer’s handbook to learn the various ways of introducing quotations. ALL QUOTATIONS MUST BE INTRODUCED. Try introducing your quotation with the writer’s name, and be sure to enclose all quoted material within quotation marks. Page numbers stand outside the quotation marks but inside the period. Several examples follow:
Karen Elizabeth Gordon writes in her introduction to The Well-Tempered Sentence, "However
frenzied or disarrayed or complicated your thoughts may be, punctuation tempers them
and sends signals to your reader about how to take them in" (ix).
Gordon (1993) says of the exclamation point, "What a wild, reckless, willful invention! How could we possibly live without it! Who needs words when we have this flasher!" (p. 1).
Karen Elizabeth Gordon thinks of the comma as "a delicate kink in time, a pause within
a sentence, a chance to catch your breath."1
[At the bottom of the page, the following footnote would appear:
1. Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993), 21.]
Remember, quote strategically to emphasize your point and NEVER quote simply because you are unwilling to do the hard work of paraphrasing or discussing the material.
EXCEPTION: If you are writing a paper for a literature class, the guidelines are different. Frequent quoting of your primary source (story, poem, novel, creative essay, or play) is important to provide your reader with direct evidence. In other words, you are bringing pertinent parts of the text into your paper to show that your interpretation is sound and based on the writer's actual words. For more detailed information on writing about literature, see our Literary Papers resource.
Remember, your reader (i.e., your professor) is truly engaged and wants to learn what you have discovered. Take the time to make your research interesting and legitimate.
Examples of Summarizing, Paraphrasing and Quoting
Original text from the Journal of Sport Management:
One of the most contentious debates surrounding the indirect effects of athletics concerns its impact upon non-athletic gifts to universities. The major improvements of programs at Northwestern in 1995 and Georgia Tech in 1991 prompted speculation and some anecdotal evidence supporting the argument that athletic success contributes to additional general giving. However, this evidence and the proposition behind it has often met strong rebuttal. The reasons behind the challenges are easy to understand; the likely impacts of athletics on general giving are much harder to unambiguously assess than are the types of effects we have discussed to date (athletic department revenues and expenses, media coverage). Moreover, the cause-effect relationships can be quite ambiguous. Some benefactors are interested in both athletics and general university welfare but have a fixed amount of money they are willing to donate. In such cases, increased athletic success may help steer these donors toward athletic giving and away from general gifts. On the other hand, greater exposure for a university, whatever its source, may help spur giving across many fronts. The effect that is expected to dominate (athletic vs. general giving) cannot be theoretically determined. Comparisons across empirical studies are complicated by the use of different dependent variables, use of different variables to account for athletic success, different control variables, and a lack of investigation of lag relationships. For example, Baade and Sundberg (1996) try to explain gifts per alumni for 167 schools over an eighteen-year period, Grimes and Chressanthis (1994) consider annual gifts for one school over a thirty-year time frame, and McCormick and Tinsley (1990) estimate the relationship between athletic gifts and general giving. Even if effects are determined using comparable methods for different institutions, the answer as to whether athletic success and athletic giving reduce or increase general giving may depend on the specific university in question as well as the specific circumstances surrounding its athletic success (e.g., how "big" and how novel the success was.). (Goff, 2000, pp. 92-93)
According to Goff (2000), there is no conclusive evidence about the relationship between athletic success and general donations to universities. Athletic success increases a university‘s exposure, which may attract general gifts, or may instead increase donations only to athletics, to the detriment of other areas. Determining the effect athletic success has on general giving has proved to be challenging and occasionally controversial. Goff explains there is no consistent method for studying this phenomenon, and that the unique variables at different schools further complicate the results of any study.
Sample Paraphrase of Paragraph 2:
Goff (2000) points out that athletic success may initiate increased giving to the university as a whole, but some benefactors may only have an allotted amount of money for such purposes. In the event that a benefactor is equally interested in the university’s athletic achievements and the university as a whole, he or she could choose to donate money in either direction. Since the athletic success highlighted the athletic department, a benefactor could naturally gravitate toward furthering the success of that department. In contrast, the athletic success also reflected well on the university as a whole, and a benefactor could therefore choose to donate money to one or more university departments. The effect athletic success has on general giving is thus highly variable and difficult to study.
Goff (2000) contends that "one of the most contentious debates surrounding the indirect effects of athletics concerns its impact upon non-athletic gifts to universities" (p. 92).
Goff (2000) maintains that when studying athletic success and general gifts, "the cause-effect relationships can be quite ambiguous." (p. 92).