Writing Summary Notes

Excerpts from pages 99-102 of Writing Research Papers Across the Curriculum, Third Edition, by Susan M. Hubbach, copyright 1992 by Holt, Rinehart & Winston, reprinted by permission of the publisher. This material may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

What are Summary Notes?

A short summary of each source that captures the gist of the author's argument or study.  You should write summary notes soon after reading a source. 

Why Take Summary Notes?

These summaries may be the most valuable notes you make. 

They pull together the general conclusions and approaches of the experts, which you will refer to in your paper.

As your research becomes more focused, you can review the summaries to see which works you should return to and study more carefully.

If you later need more specific information from one of your sources, your summaries can help you locate that source quickly.

Summary writing is an active, not passive, process. you must digest a reading and get it into your head in a coherent way to summarize it. This helps you master the material for your paper.

Reviewing the summaries will help you see the different points of view on a topic. 

How Do I Write Summary Notes?

1. Put the source away, and then answer the following questions in your summary: 

What problem was the author trying to understand/resolve? 

What was his/her hypothesis? 

What were the results? 

What was the author's method or approach in developing his/her argument or testing his/her thesis? 

What perspective in the field is the author coming from? 

What here could be useful for my research project? 

2. Use mainly your own words, perhaps with some short quoted excerpts. 3. Check your summary against the original for accuracy. 

3. Check your summary against the original for accuracy.

4. Be sure to include information on the source. You might write the summaries on the backs of your working bibliography cards. 

Examples of Summaries

To Smith, the major conflict between the North and the South was the very different perceptions of slavery each region had. To the North, a moral issue; to the South, an economic necessity. Good detailed discussion of the kinds of work slaves did (insights into Southern agricultural practices). Lots of statistics on numbers of slaves in each Southern state, 1850-60 (Smith 186-97). 

Wilson & Jones were testing the hypothesis that violence on TV encourages people to resolve problems physically. Longitudinal study -- 60 subjects -- all male. Results inconclusive. Note date: a recent study. 

Murphy & Nolan studies the effects of temperature on the germination of sugar pine seeds. Looked at oxygen uptake, ATP levels, moisture content of seed imbibed at 5C. and 20C. Results: seeds wouldn't germinate at temperature above 17C. Murphy & Nolan suggest reason is the effects of high temperatures on membrane properties. 

Pretty technical study of how bees learn. Specifically, how they use landmarks to find their way home. Common assumption--insects have to store in memory exact "photographs" of the area. But Gould's hypothesis is that they can form more flexible mental maps, as vertebrates do. Experiments involved turning bees loose in various landscapes some distance from the hive and timing how long it took them to get home. Results sections full of math I don't understand, but Gould claims these results support his hypothesis that bees can form "'cognitive maps'" (Gould 863). 

Review of 1st exhibit of impressionists by French critic, published in Paris newspaper in 1874. Written as a little story in which the review and an Academy painter walk around the exhibit and comment on the paintings. VERY sarcastic. Could use to illustrate how "avant-garde" impressionism was--& differences in Academy, impressionist styles. 

In this book Edwards looks at all of Waller's plays in relation to her life and to what was going on in the theater in 1920-30. Chpt. each on Lovers, Molly, Window. Good background info on American regional theater. I like his reading of Molly as picture of Waller's struggle to free herself from family/escape oppression of Smalltown.

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