Summary: Conciseness and Brevity


The art of Summarising in chapter two of  Graff-Birkenstein (They say/I say)exposed my ignorance of summary.  Before I read the above  chapter on summary, I always believed summary was only about shortening what the piece of work or article was saying. In other words, be concise and apply brevity. What I believed I knew about summarising was a mish mash of what I had been taught over the years. For example, I was taught that if one is able to make the assigned piece shorter, then it could be considered a summary. Clearly not.

Summary, in fact proves to be an essential and critical tool to successful writing because according to the they say/I say model, writing is a dialogue.

When in a conversation, one does not merely repeat everything the other person said because that in itself might be considered plagiarism. Paraphrasing comes in handy when attempting  to bounce off what has been said earlier in order to make opinions. Although, I know the trouble of going back through texts, scanning through long lines of words and spaces; I  still try to get a feel of what the author is saying so I can say what he/she says in my own words.

Finding the balance is not easy if I might say. It is far too tempting to repeat what the author is saying  in my own  words and leave it at that. However, this  is not enough. I have to be able to paraphrase what has been said, cut out the fluff, be concise and say it in words focused in my direction of thought.

In contrast, Graff/Birkenstein says “To write a really good summary, you must be able to suspend your own beliefs and put yourself in the shoes of someone else”. That is, one must be able to view the author’s ideas on their own terms because they are the “they say” and your job as the “I say” is to bounce off on what the former is actually saying.  Nonetheless, the process can be daunting sometimes when the “they say” gets lost in translation and the prominence of the “I say”  leaves the piece of work sounding biased. Like I said earlier, it is all about finding a balance. Therefore, my methodology on writing a good summary based on what Graff/Birkenstein says, is

First, try to get a feel from what the author is saying and then proceed to understand what you are getting from those feelings. Are you feeling  ambivalent? Are you feeling unsure about the argument?

Second, keep those feeling aside because you are trying to focus on what the author is saying and not what you are saying.

Third, after you have gotten the main idea of what the author is saying, unpack your earlier feelings and in a juxtaposition weigh it against what the author’s main idea is and what you think and feel of it.

Four, In your own words but in the author’s direction of thought, summarise what the assigned piece of work is actually about.




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