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17.3 From Personal to Public Writing: A Summary and a Personal Response

A summary is as objective as possible. A personal response is subjective. Together, they show the dialogue between public and personal that underlies much practical writing.

A summary should:


A summary is a brief account, and should not include:


A. Summary

When you summarize what someone else has written, you must condense many thoughts into a few words. Click here to find a news article to summarize. Print it out and underline the key terms as you read it.

Follow these steps in writing your summary:

  1. When you have finished reading the article and underlining the key terms, write a sentence that states the main point of the whole article. Use your own words, but do not include any opinions of your own.

  2. In the margin write words that combine the key points that you've underlined. You will be moving from the specific details of the article to more general language in your summary.

  3. Write a paragraph using your own words presenting the main point and the essential information of the article as identified by the words you've put in the margins. Report the ideas in the fewest words possible, and add nothing.

  4. Finally, review your paragraph, looking for more efficient ways of presenting the information you've chosen. Condense the summary further until it is under 100 words.


B. Personal Response

In a personal response, your opinion is what matters, and the word "I" is welcome. Review the article on the therapeutic effects of laughter and decide what you think or feel about it.

  1. Freewrite or cluster notes on your reaction to the article. Do you agree or disagree, does anything in the article surprise or upset you, do any of the details remind you of something, etc.? Pick one main point that expresses your response and write it in a single, clear sentence that includes the word "I."
  2. Starting with that sentence, go on to explain your response by giving details, examples, and reasons. Stick to one main point, but develop it so that readers will understand exactly why you feel the way you do.
  3. End with a sentence that returns to the key term of your main point. Review the paragraph and make it do its work in under 100 words.


C. Combining Summary and Response

  1. Copy the response paragraph onto the bottom of the summary page and read the two parts in sequence. Listen for the difference between objective and subjective writing. Make changes to magnify this difference.
  2. Trade papers with a partner and check each other's summaries for:
    • coverage of all essential ideas
    • avoidance of extra material
    • objectivity and clear reporting

    Check each other's responses for:
    • strength of the main idea sentence and support for it
    • avoidance of comments that don't support the main idea
    • subjectivity and persuasiveness
  3. Revise your paper and give it a title.
  4. Practice writing summaries of and responses to other works: movies, books, school events, lectures, concerts, articles from newspapers, magazines, the Internet, etc.

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