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Summarizing nonfiction | Reading

Summaries are retellings of texts that contain only the most important details and events. Let's explore how they work for nonfiction!

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Video transcript

- [David] Hello, readers. Today, I'm going to be talking about the skill of summary, which you might be familiar with in the form of summarizing stories. It's like a retelling, but shorter, and in your own words. This is an important skill, summarizing fiction, but it's not what we're talking about today. This kind of summarizing is used when you want to sum up the information in a nonfiction passage like a magazine article, a book, a news story, a scientific paper. Most scientific papers begin with a quick retelling of what the paper's about. So say you're a scientist and you discovered a cure for roboflu. Let's say robots can get the flu, first of all. And the abstract, the summary retelling at the very beginning of your paper about your cure says, "Hey, under these conditions, we learned "that this medicine cures roboflu." And then, the reader goes on to look at everything else you've written in your long scholarly paper. So how do you do it? To make a summary, you will need your own words, the order of events or information from the text, and important details from the text. So what's not in the summary? Every last detail from the original text. I think I first read something like this in a Neil Gaiman novel, but here's the deal. Imagine you were coming to visit me and you asked me for a map of my neighborhood. Now if I included every single detail in my map, who lives next to me, every tuft of grass under a tree, it would stop being a map and just become a one-to-one scale drawing of my neighborhood. In other words, it would be useless as a map. A summary is a map of my neighborhood with only the important bits in it, my apartment, a metro stop, Rock Creek Park. When we make a summary of a text, we are in effect making a simple map of that text. And it's your job to determine what details are necessary, the most needed. Like say somewhere deep in that paper on how you discovered a cure for the roboflu, you had written, "It was raining on the cold, "the November day "our team first identified the robomedicine." Like would that be an important enough detail to include in the summary? I'd say no. The big picture is that the team discovered the medicine, not that it was raining when it happened. But if the cure for robotflu involved garlic and motor oil, yes, that's an important detail, because it relates back to the big picture. We discovered a medicine, and here's what's in it. To conclude, let me summarize. A summary is a short retelling of a piece of text with only the important details included. It's like a simple map of a place. You can learn anything, David out.