Writing Summaries and Outlines Study Guide (page 2)
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
Taking good notes is a valuable skill for both readers and writers. This lesson will introduce two useful ways to organize your reading notes. It will also help you decide when to use each method to create the most effective notes.
Can you remember every sentence you have read in this book so far? Of course not! When we read longer works such as books and articles, we usually remember only a few important points, or an idea that seemed really interesting. Two of the best ways to record these important ideas are summaries and outlines. A summary consists of a few sentences that briefly explain the main ideas. But if the reading has several interesting details, an outline may be the best way of organizing your notes. Summaries and outlines are useful tools for keeping track of the really significant information in a source.
When you recommend a great book or movie to a friend, you probably give your friend a short summary of the story. A summary is a retelling of the content in your own words. The summary should briefly paraphrase the main idea and supporting ideas or arguments. The main idea can usually be stated in one sentence, but a summary is often two or more sentences.
Read the following story carefully, and think about how you would summarize it.
Shiloh swung her leg back and clobbered a clump of dirt. It sailed over the sidewalk and shattered on the grass beyond. "Goal!" she sang. "One point for Shiloh Fanin!" As she continued the long walk home, she kicked at other dirt clumps and even a pile of dry leaves, though they didn't fly far. Fat tears welled in her brown eyes, but she wouldn't let them fall. For weeks she had been practicing her dribbling, longrange kicks, and passing. Every evening after dinner her father had brought out the scuffed soccer ball for an hour of running around the yard, and she had even outrun him a few times. But the hours of practice hadn't done her any good. Today's soccer team tryouts had been dismal. Nearly thirty girls had assembled on the field after school, and many of them were taller, stronger, and more experienced than Shiloh. After they had finished the tryouts, the coach explained that only fifteen girls could be chosen, and Shiloh wasn't surprised to be among those sent home. Now she would have to explain to her father that she wasn't good enough to play.
As she wandered down the last block to her house, something hit her in the back of the leg. A soccer ball! She spun around and saw Ashley, another girl who hadn't made the team. "Hey, Shiloh," Ashley called. "Would you like to sign up for the community soccer league with me? You were really good today, and I need a few more girls for our team."
Shiloh smiled. Maybe she could make her father proud after all.
Now look at two possible summaries. Which one seems more effective?
Shiloh didn't make the school soccer team. Then a friend asked her to join a different soccer team.
Shiloh was hoping to join the school soccer team. Despite hours of practice, she was not chosen for the team. She was upset and disappointed until a friend asked her to join a community soccer team.
The first summary is brief and concise. It tells who and what. If you were taking notes for yourself, this version might be sufficient to help you remember what the story was about. But the second version gives a bit more information—how Shiloh felt about these events and why the events were connected. If you wanted to summarize this story for a friend, these details would help explain the mood of the story and the relationship between the events. Thus, the second example is a more complete and effective summary of the story.
Because a short summary cannot include every detail, you will have to decide which information is most important. Sometimes the supporting ideas can be grouped together. For example, an article may include several dates or names of people and places. Not all these names and dates have to appear in your summary. As you read this newspaper excerpt, underline the most important information.
On January 3, Swiss native Jens Kipper became the first person to swim across Lake Delgado. Kipper practiced for more than eight months before attempting the 3,250-meter swim across the chilly mountain lake. A special wetsuit allowed him to retain body temperature, and a medical crew closely followed him in a boat in case of any mishap. He completed the crossing in just over five hours. Kipper trained in Lake Superior, one of the Great Lakes bordering northern Wisconsin and Michigan, and claimed that the weather conditions there helped him to prepare for Lake Delgado. Several people have attempted the Lake Delgado crossing before; Seamus Rich, of Ireland, made it two-thirds of the way across the lake in 2006 before high waves forced him to quit, and Frenchman Jacques Isther made several unsuccessful attempts in the late 1900s.
Unlike the article about the history of bicycles you read in Section 1, most of the names and dates in this article are not essential details. You can summarize these details in one general statement. Your summary might look like this:
Jens Kipper recently became the first person to swim across Lake Delgado. He trained for months and wore a special wetsuit. Several other people had previously attempted this crossing but failed.
The main idea of the article is Kipper's record. The article supports this main idea with details about his training, his equipment, and other swimmers who have tried the task before. If you tried to record all of these details in your summary, it might end up as long as the original article! Keep in mind that a summary provides a very brief version of the content, and some details will have to be left out.
When to Use Summaries
You probably summarize all the time—when you tell a friend about an argument with your mother, for example, or when you recommend a favorite comic book or television show. When you need to take notes on a reading, ask yourself, "What is this reading about?" This will help you focus on the main idea rather than the events or supporting details. A summary is usually the best way to record the main idea of a fiction story. The four stages of a plot, which you discovered in Lesson 6, might be tough to arrange in outline form. A summary might also be the easiest method for taking notes on a nonfiction essay or article, especially if you only need to remember the main ideas.
The type of notes you take will depend on what type of notes will be the most useful to you. Let's look once more at the story of St. Louis's Gateway Arch:
The Gateway Arch
The skyline of St. Louis, Missouri, is fairly unremarkable, with one huge exception—the Gateway Arch, which stands on the bank of the Mississippi. Part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Arch is an amazing structure built to honor St. Louis's role as the gateway to the West.
In 1947 a group of interested citizens known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association held a nationwide competition to select a design for a new monument that would celebrate the growth of the United States. Other U.S. monuments are spires, statues, or imposing buildings, but the winner of this contest was a plan for a completely different type of structure. The man who submitted the winning design, Eero Saarinen, later became a famous architect. In designing the Arch, Saarinen wanted to leave a monument that would have enduring impact.
The Gateway Arch is a masterpiece of engineering, a monument even taller than the Great Pyramid in Egypt. In its own way, the Arch is at least as majestic as the Great Pyramid. The Gateway is shaped as an inverted catenary curve, the same shape that a heavy chain will form if suspended between two points. Covered with a sleek skin of stainless steel, the Arch often reflects dazzling bursts of sunlight. In a beautiful display of symmetry, the height of the arch is the same as the distance between the legs at ground level.
If you are reading this passage just to get the main idea, you'll want to know what the Arch is, where it is located, and why it is important. You would include only the most important details that you want to remember. Your summary might look like this:
The Gateway Arch is a remarkable monument on the bank of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. The stainless steel Arch was designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1940s to honor St. Louis as the gateway to the West.
But suppose you were writing an essay comparing the Arch to another monument. The names, dates, and other details about the Arch would be important to remember, so you could use an outline instead.
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