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Guidelines for Writing a Summary

Question 1: Make Your Summary Comprehensive

A good summary should be comprehensive, concise, coherent, and independent. These qualities are explained below:

A summary must be comprehensive. You should isolate all the important points in the original passage and note them down in a list. Review all the ideas on your list and include in your summary all the ones that are indispensable to the author's development of his/her thesis or main idea.

A summary must be concise. Eliminate repetitions in your list, even if the author restates the same points. Your summary should be considerably shorter than the source. You are hoping to create an overview; therefore, you need not include every repetition of a point or every supporting detail.

A summary must be coherent. It should make sense as a piece of writing in its own right; it should not merely be taken directly from  your list of notes or sound like a disjointed collection of points.

A summary must be independent. You are not being asked to imitate the author of the text you are writing about. On the contrary, you are expected to maintain your own voice throughout the summary. Do not simply quote the author; instead, use your own words to express your understanding of what you have read. After all, your summary is based on your interpretation of the writer's points or ideas. However, you should be careful not to create any misrepresentation or distortion by introducing comments or criticisms of your own.

To summarize is to condense a text to its main points and to do so in your own words. To include every detail is neither necessary nor desirable. Instead, you should extract only those elements which you think are most important – the main idea (or thesis) and its essential supporting points, which in the original passage may have been interwoven with less important material. It is important to remember that a summary is not an outline or synopsis of the points that the author makes in the order that the author gives them. Instead, a summary is a distillation of the ideas or argument of the text. It is a reconstruction of the major point or points of development of a text, beginning with the thesis or main idea, followed by the points or details that support or elaborate on that idea. If a text is organized in a linear fashion you may be able to write a summary, simply by outlining.

the major points from the beginning of the text to the end. However, you should not assume that this will always be the case. Not all writers use such a straightforward structure. They may not state the thesis or main idea immediately at the beginning, but rather build up to it slowly, and they may introduce a point of development in one place and then return to it later in the text. However, for the sake of clarity, a  summary should present the author’s points in a straightforward structure.

To write a good summary, you may have to gather minor points or components of an argument from different places in the text to summarize the text in an organized way. A point made in the beginning of an essay and then one made toward the end may need to be grouped together in your summary to concisely convey the argument that the author is making. In the end, you will have read, digested, and reconstructed the text in a shorter, more concise form.

For those and other reasons argued later, I prefer the alternative term of communicative silence. It still includes applications such as silencing communication. But its meaning is deeper, beneath the surface of its objective appearances. Strategic silences are also concrete applications of communicative silence. Once we have clarified what communicative silence is – or what it is not – it will be easier to move to its strategic uses. Here, I use ‘silence’ as the shortcut for ‘communicative silence’. I qualify ‘silence’ only when the meanings of both terms do not converge. There is no abstract silence. Silence as such does not exist.

Any taxonomy of silences would be futile. Even the ‘collected silences’ of Doctor Murke, the radio journalist from the story of the same name by Heinrich Böll, were tape cuts with all chance silences of his interviewees, which only he could hear and appreciate (Böll, 1966). Equally, there is no absolute silence. The regulations of absolute silence in the Solitary Prison in the penal colony in eighteenth century Tasmania were designed to break the felon-self through silence and sort of exorcising the ‘criminal’ out of the ‘worst offenders’ bodies (Hughes, 1987). But even the complete and most extreme use of silence,1 could not entirely destroy all social relations between prisoners and between prisoners and warders.

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