The Ultimate Guide to Creating Effective Summaries: 10 Simple Steps for Students
The summary often represents the starting point for a functional study, as it allows to reduce the amount of material to be memorized and helps the student approach even very vast topics. Therefore, it can be a useful tool, since it covers different learning functions, ranging from understanding the text to consolidating concepts.
In this article we will see:
A comprehensive guide for students and professionals
The concept of summary is probably known to everyone, although there is often no clarity on what it exactly is. The term actually encompasses different types of written text, albeit sharing some underlying characteristics. In general, the first macro-distinction that can be made is between:
- Summaries written for the reading of third parties: they can be written to anticipate the content of a long text (as in the case of abstracts), to indicate the plot of books and volumes (as in book summaries) or as an exercise assigned by teachers;
- Summaries written for the use of students: they can also be used by students themselves to study, understanding and memorizing the assigned concepts.
In general, all types of summaries must be neutral, maintaining the maximum degree of detachment from those who write them. In addition, they must be written in such a way that they are understandable even to those who do not know the starting text, thanks to a solid logical structure that follows the general rules of coherence. But how can a summary be useful for a student approaching a subject, perhaps in view of a test?
The activity of summarizing itself allows to apply and develop different skills: already in the elaboration phase, the process of memorization of the starting content is initiated. To have a satisfactory result, in fact, the student must be able to understand, synthesize and reformulate the text - being able to select the concepts to be reported with a scale of importance. This is how a student can make the topics his own based on a completely autonomous learning method.
10 simple steps to create the perfect summary
Although summarizing skills are often taken for granted, there are actually simple and clear steps to create a perfect summary. In this section, we will illustrate the ten steps to follow, complete with general guidelines to always keep in mind:
- Preparation of the work plan;
- First approach to the text;
- In-depth reading;
- Identification of the five Ws;
- Division of the text into sections;
- The "double" underlining;
- First schematization;
- Writing the summary;
- Revision of the summary;
- Copying in a neat copy.
Tips and tools for optimal learning
To start putting together your summary, prepare your work plan and everything you will need to proceed:
- Starting text;
- Stationery (pencil, pen, eraser, sharpener…);
- Several sheets, including at least one for the rough draft and one for the final copy.
This step is particularly important to immerse yourself in the learning activity, especially for students with attention disorders - who are also advised to clear the workspace of any other elements.
To summarize, you can also decide to take advantage of technological tools. In this case, you will need a computer, but the advice remains to keep sheets of paper at hand, because manual schematization can help to learn and organize ideas.
How to read carefully and understand every step
So, start by approaching the text, which you will need to read carefully trying to understand every step right away. The first reading is important to get familiar with the contents, starting to get an idea of what the main concepts conveyed are.
Uncovering logical connections through in-depth second readings
Therefore, proceed to a second reading, which should be more in-depth and focused on the logical connections present within the text. In other words, you will need to understand which threads the author weaves to convey their ideas and lead the reader to their conclusions.
A guide to unveiling the identity of any text
After reading the text for the second time, you can ask yourself and take note of the so-called five WH-questions that serve as the " identity card" of the original text:
- Who - who: who is the subject or protagonist of the text?
- What - what: what are the actions of the subject?
- When - when: identify the moment and any temporal sequence present in the text;
- Where - where: what is the setting of the text?
- Why - why: what motivations move the subject and are behind the concepts described?
At this stage, remember that some texts may not have answers to all these questions, especially if they are narrative and not more informative study topics. In this case, do not worry and select only the information present in the text, without ever forcing or adding your own.
How to identify and extract fundamental concepts from different sections of text
Identify the different sections that make up the text: often they are easily identifiable thanks to the presence of formatting signs (paragraphs, line breaks, and spacing). Each section can therefore be seen as a small standalone piece of text from which to extract the fundamental concepts.
Highlighting key concepts and logical connectors
Start by highlighting the key concepts of each section. Depending on the length of the text, they may be more or less numerous, but always keep in mind that the final summary should have about one third of the number of words in the original text. At the same time, underline the logical connectors and relevant prepositions, which - by linking the various parts of speech - make the internal relationships of the text understandable.
Capturing crucial elements and progression in your rough draft sheet
In the rough draft sheet, proceed to transcribe the crucial elements that you previously identified. Stick strictly to what you see written, also using arrows and tiny graphic elements to have a clear understanding of the progression of what you are summarizing.
Developing concepts with short sentences and formal criteria
Starting from the outline, develop the concepts with very short sentences: refrain from any kind of comment and try to avoid adjectives and parentheticals. In this phase, you will have to follow the formal criteria of summaries:
- Use of third person;
- Lexicon as close as possible to the original one;
- Use of temporal and logical connectors to maintain a clear logical thread.
Why allowing time between writing and revising is key to spotting errors
Before copying the summary in a clean copy, make sure to reread the rough draft. Ideally, allow some time to pass between writing and revising, so that the brain can better spot errors and understand if the result is understandable even without the original text in front of you.
Moving from summary to fair copy stage for effective learning
After reviewing - and possibly modifying - your summary, you can move on to the fair copy stage. If you are using the summary as a study method, this phase will still be important to consolidate the learned concepts, taking a last look at the selected information.
The impact of technology and automatic concept mapping
The way of summarizing a text is evolving, along with the rest of the world of school and learning, enriched by the opportunities offered by technology. After all, if reduced to the bone, they can be seen as simple ways to start from complex texts and reduce them, making them more accessible to study and assimilation.
Thanks to the tool of automatic concept mapping starting from a text, you can use the platform Algor Education to summarize the study material and approach it with much more ease. The functionality will allow you to overcome many obstacles related to reading - especially of particularly complex content. In addition, it will allow you to use the concept map as a first schematization if you want to elaborate a real written summary.