Summarizing Information to Demonstrate Understanding

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

How can you show you comprehend what you have read? One strategy is to summarize information. This lesson discusses three methods for summarizing that can demonstrate reading comprehension.

Summarizing

How do you assess for reading? How do you know what is going on inside another person's head? For that matter, how can you show what is going on in yours? Through many years of working in the field of education, reading teachers have tackled these issues and devised various methods to assess reading comprehension. One of these methods is summarizing, or providing a brief recap of the main points of a reading.

A thorough and accurate summary proves that you have comprehended the reading material. When creating summaries, be sure to focus on the information in the text and avoid personal opinions or judgments. These are better reserved for an analysis instead of a summary. This lesson discusses several methods of providing a factual summary for a reading passage.

Outlines

Our first method for summarizing is to create an outline, which records the essential features of the text through designated rankings. Basically, main ideas are ranked higher than smaller details. The ranking is shown through lettering, numbering, symbols and indentation.

Most outlines follow an ABC, 123, or Roman numeral pattern. If using ABC, the first main idea is labeled 'A'. Beneath that, you should indent and use numbers or some other symbol to indicate the lesser details. To move onto the next main idea, label it 'B' and align it with the first main idea. Continue this pattern until the summary is complete.

Let's use an example to showcase an outline. Imagine you are reading a chapter on plant biology in a science textbook. The first two main ideas the chapter covers are 'classification of plants' and 'plant reproduction'. Here is one example of an outline you could create:

  • A. Classification of Plants
    • 1. Four main types
      • i. Flowering, conifers, ferns, mosses
    • 2. Divided based on process of reproduction
  • B. Plant Reproduction
    • 1. Flowering plants reproduce using pollination to produce seeds
    • 2. Conifers reproduce using cones that contain seeds
    • 3. Ferns reproduce from spores
    • 4. Mosses also reproduce from spores

For this outline, note how the capital letters A and B mark the major ideas. Then the lesser ideas are indented to show they fall within that larger idea. The lower rankings can be indicated by numbers or other symbols, like the lowercase i. If you choose to use numbers or Roman numerals, follow this same pattern for each section to create a thorough outline that summarizes the important information from the reading.

Written Summaries

Another strategy to show reading comprehension is the written summary. As the name implies, this involves writing a summary in paragraph form. The length of the written summary depends on the length of the reading; the longer the reading selection, the longer the written summary. Written summaries can be very useful to show everything you have understood about a reading. They can also indicate with what you might be struggling and need further help.

Written summaries can also vary depending on the type of text. For instance, the written summary of that chapter from the science textbook would be very different from one for a novel. Textbooks often have subtitles for main ideas and for ideas within those. Include all the subtitles in your written summaries to ensure you covered all the important information. This might turn out to be about one paragraph per page.

For a written summary of any piece of literature, write in chronological order. Stories are mostly in order of time, and your summary should mimic the reading. Furthermore, a thorough written summary should include all major plot points or events in the story. One paragraph per chapter might be a reasonable expectation. However, longer chapters might call for two to three paragraphs. Keep these tips in mind to help you write accurate summaries in paragraph form.

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