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The Art of Summarizing

Page history last edited by Jared 11 years, 11 months ago

“Her Point Is:” The Believing Game and the Art of Summarizing


To add to your current rhetorical analysis you might want to start with a summary (no longer than two paragraphs or roughly one page) just after your introduction.  Summarizing someone’s argument is central to the arsenal of your basic moves as a writer. Because writers who make strong claims need to make their claims relative to those of other people, it is important to know how to summarize effectively what those other people say.


In project two, your purpose is not merely summarizing, but you likely need to provide a quick summary of the main argument somewhere early in the paper; and because this is not your primary purpose, you’ll need to do so in one or two paragraphs at the very most.


To write a really good and concise summary, you must try to suspend judgment of the author’s claims and play what Peter Elbow calls: “the believing game” in which you try to inhabit the worldview of the person whose conversation you’re joining as you begin your analysis.  Writers should not be able to tell whether you agree or disagree with the ideas you’re summarizing.


However! You are composing a summary that highlights certain sections of the book.  You choose certain details, claims and enthymemes that sets up your own perspective on the reading and your own argument, so even though you want to sound respectful and objective about the text, you are ultimately still setting up your own rhetorical analysis with the summary.


The structure of a summary is also important.  Because we tend to list what the author says (First O’Reilly says this about America, then that about Democrats.  In addition...furthermore...Also...) or what the text is about (like in our enthymeme exercises), we often end up with typical boring list-like summaries.  This is hard to avoid when you’re playing the “believing game;” but when you shift your purpose toward summarizing for your own agenda (advancing your rhetorical analysis....and your developing purpose) you may want to shift your tone or your “voice” to exhibit some more penetrating question or personal insight into the overall argument in a way that suits your overall thesis.  For example, when O’Reilly argues that media bias has undermined democracy, his argument is partly undermined by his own partisan media enterprise.  Near the end of your summary you can lead your reader into YOUR perspective that you develop through your analysis of the argument.


In sum, play “the believing game” and then acknowledge that your summary has a purpose that is ultimately your own.


Here are some verbs to help structure your summary (try to avoid “says” as most authors don’t merely “say” the things you’ve selected for your summary).


Verbs for making a claim:  Argue, assert, insist, observe, believe, remind us, claim, report, emphasize


Verbs for expressing agreement: acknowledge, admire, agree, celebrate the fact that, corroborate, endorse, extol, praise, support, verify


Verbs for questioning or disagreeing: complain, complicate, contend, contradict, deny, disavow, question, refute, reject, renounce, repudiate


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