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Summarize argument


In this technique you will produce a 1/2-2 page written summary of an author's line of argument. 

There are several reasons to produce written summaries: (a) it helps you to start explaining points in ways that your readers will understand, (b) it sets the stage for the synthesis you will do next, and (c) it is a useful product in it's own write because these summaries can be used to create an annotated bibliography that readers can use to get up to speed on an issue. 

To create a written summary, you will convert the visual line of argument into an outline and then convert the outline to linear prose.



Here's a summary of an article by Tucker from Kaufer et al. (1989, p. 104).  Notice how the summary describes Tucker's line of argument.  The first paragraph introduces the article an explains how Tucker "sees the issue" while the 2nd paragraph explains how Tucker "defines the problem" and the 3rd paragraph explains how Tucker "chooses a solution."

Example Summary

Writing in Harper's in March of 1982, William Tucker address the issue of wilderness preservation in an essay entitled "Is Nature Too Good for us?" There Tucker argues that the preservation effort is driven by fundamental misconceptions concerning the relationship between man and nature.  Although the preservationist philosophy of setting aside etensive tracts of land in wilderness preserves has long been opposed by conservationists who favor policies of multiple use and highest use, it was not until passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 that the preservationists held the upper hand.  Now, Tucker argues, preservationist efforts in the western states are threatening U.S. international trade for years to come by locking up scarce energy and mineral resources in permanent preserves.

The preservationist effort is fueled, according to Tucker, by a number of misconceptions: that we are running out of wilderness, that wilderness provides a necessary source of peace and freedom, and that primitive practices are generally better than more civilized practices.  Tucker argues that, in point of fact, the United States has plenty of open space and that the search for peace and freedom is just a middle-class attempt to retreat from the responsibilities of modern life.  The real danger in this effort, he argues, is that by locking up needed natural resources we may actually jeopardize the economic well-being that has allowed us to enjoy such respites from the daily need to support ourselves. 

The alternative for Tucker is clear.  We do not need to search for a new religious consciousness based in more primitive or less Western civilizations.  They, after all, do no better than we do at ecology.  What we need is to return to the conservationists' doctrine of stewardship of the land.  That is, we must seek to develop a creative and harmonious relationship with nature rather than setting ourselves apart from it.



To write your summary, you will need:

  • the visualized line of argument for a text
  • a word processor




1. Outline the body

Start your outline with the 3 milestones (issue, problem, solution), or if the author uses a different ordering, you can use the authors ordering if appropriate.

Next, under each milestone, outline the points (main, faulty, return) that the author makes for that milestone.

2. Draft the introduction

Draft an introduction that orients your readers to the text your summarizing, to the issue and your summary.  It should be about 2 sentences and include:

  • the citation for the text summarized
  • the issue addressed by the author
  • the overall claim made by the author

3. Draft the body

Using your outline, draft the body of the summary.

In drafting the body:

  • You may want to combine points in ways not indicated in the outline, for example combine several consecutive faulty points into one
  • Use author attributions to remind the reader you are talking about the author's position
  • you may use between a sentence to a paragraph for each milestone depending on the original texts and the needs of your readers.

4. Revise for your readers

Add detail and transitions as needed to make the author comprehensible to your readers.



A 1/2-2 page written summary of the author's argument.

Critique questions

The written summary is a useful piece or writing for your audience so it's worth doing a more serious test, see Test Summary.


Kaufer, D. S., Geisler, C., & Neuwirth, C. M. (1989). Arguing from sources: Exploring issues through reading and writing. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (p. 97-131).