Summary: When and How Do I Use It?
One of the important distinctions to make when coming to terms with a text is knowing when to summarize it, when to paraphrase it, and when to quote it. Here’s what Joseph Harris, author of the textbook Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts, has to say:
“Summarize when what you have to say about a text is routine and quote when it is more contentious” (21).
In other words, quote when you need to rely on the voice of the writer, when you need the language of the text to help you make a point. Otherwise, try to use paraphrase or summary, so that your ideas are still the main focus.
Summarizing a text can distract your reader from your argument, especially if you rely on lengthy summaries to capture a source in a nutshell. However, it can also prove an effective rhetorical tool: you just need to know when to use it.
You can use summary in the following ways:
- When the source offers important background about your ideas
- When you need to provide your readers with an overview of a source’s entire argument before analyzing certain ideas from it
- When the source either supports your thesis, or when it offers a position you want to argue against or analyze more in-depth
Here is a sample summary. What do you notice about it?
Ryuko Kubota argues in “Ideologies of English in Japan” that the debate over English’s place in the Japanese language disappeared with the militaristic rule of the 1930s and 1940s, when Japan rejected and/or suppressed the learning of English and other languages in favor of heavy nationalism. However, he adds that the debate returned during America’s occupation of Japan and has periodically been a topic for debate since. Japanese politicians have always seen English as an important tool for Japan’s success as an industrial nation on a global scale. However, instead of molding itself to the English of the Western world, Japan has integrated English to fit its ideologies, to serve its own needs; indeed, to become part of the Japanese language.
1. This is a succinct summary; the entire summary is only three sentences.
2. The final sentence of the paragraph is the writer's attempt to make a connection between the article and her own ideas for her paper. This is an important step in using summary; it's important to always show the reader how/why the summary is important/relevant.