Writing summaries for Guest Lectures.
Writing a summary is an important academic skill. The strict word limit
of a summary makes it necessary to make selections and decisions which require
thorough knowledge and understanding of the topic at hand: Only the most important
and relevant aspects of the talk will be represented in the summary, and the summary's
author first has to identify those.
As a consequence, it requires more reflection and a
deeper understanding to write 200 words
than to write 1000.
In addition, the length constraint forces the author
to think carefully about the words used and the grammatical
structures employed. Unreflected writing wastes words and makes it
difficult to complete the task effectively.
BEFORE STARTING TO WRITE THE SUMMARY:
- Step 1. Write a one-sentence description of the entire talk for yourself. What
was the topic, what was the conclusion of the talk?
- Step 2. Structure the talk into sections (ideally between three and five).
Describe the content of each of the sections in one sentence for yourself.
- Step 3. Give a one-sentence description of the argumentative structure of the
talk (the "red thread").
- Step 4. For each of the sections you identified in Step 2,
give a one-sentence
description of how they fit into the argumentative structure described in
- Step 5. For each of the sections you identified in Step 2, list all of the
subtheses and claims made in the talk. (This will in general
be much more than 200 words.)
- Step 6. Identify those subtheses and claims that are most relevant for the
overall argumentative structure.
WRITING A DRAFT OF THE SUMMARY:
- Step 7. Your summary should start with a one-sentence thesis statement with (a)
the topic and subject matter of the text and (b) the speaker's main
conclusion(s). This sentence will be a synthesis of the sentences you
wrote down in Step 1 and Step 3.
- Step 8. After that, describe the speaker's line of argument towards the main
conclusions, following the "red thread" identified in Step 3. Mention the
most important supporting argument as identified in Step 6.
- A summary does not contain your personal opinions or conclusions.
- The intended audience of the summary is a (fictitious) student from
our class who did not go to the guest lecture. You may assume that the
reader has a general knowledge about logic, but nothing that was
specifically introduced in the talk can be taken for granted.
- Make sure that the argumentative structure of your text is clear and
that a reader understands what you are writing. For each single sentence,
ask yourself "Why is it there?", "What does it add to the summary?", "Does
it connect to the previous sentence?". Useful words and phrases for this are
"in addition", "moreover", "on the other hand", "however", "finally", "whereas".
If you don't know what "coordination/subordination" (FANBOYS) means, try to
Also follow the usual stylistic rules of (a) avoiding the passive voice if possible
and (b) using positive statements instead of negative statements.
- While none of the sentences should stand isolated, you should on the other hand
be cautious with inferential connectives: if you write
"because", "thus", "therefore", ask yourself whether this is warranted.
Does the reader understand why this is a consequence, or would that need
additional information that you didn't include?
- Step 9. In most cases, the draft produced in Step 8
will be longer than 200
words. In order to reduce the number of words, eliminate all unnecessary
words and repetitions. Combine sentences, remove adjectives and adverbs
unless they contribute to the content.
Example 1. "To argue his point, Smith gave a very detailed example of Shakespeare's
characteristic humour. In this example, he stressed particularly the
effect of wordplay and allusion." (26 words) ---
"To argue his point, Smith gave an example of Shakespeare's humour stressing
the effect of wordplay and allusion." (18 words)
Example 2. "There were many
completely innovative proposals that were submitted
to the committee." (12 words) ---
"The committee reviewed many innovative designs." (6 words)
"It is clearly the case that the information-based economy demands
employees who know how to learn logic applications." (19 words) ---
"The new information-based economy demands employees who can learn logic applications."
Example 4. "The report of the committee was comprised of a
list of essential skills needed by graduates of the Logic Programme."
(21 words) ---
"The committee's report listed essential skills for the Logic Programme graduates."
BEFORE SUBMITTING THE SUMMARY:
- Step 10. Give the summary to a third person and ask them to check whether they understand
what you want to communicate.
- Step 11. Make necessary changes, proofread spelling and grammar thoroughly, and hand in.
If you want to know more about writing summaries, you could try