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Creating objective summaries | Reading

All we want are the facts! Today, let's talk about what it means to be objective (and how difficult that is!) when writing a summary. When you're summarizing a text, leave your opinions out—save them for analysis! When you summarize a text, do your best to leave judgment behind.

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Video transcript

- [Narrator] Hello, readers. Today I want to talk about objective summaries by way of introducing you to the character of Joe Friday, a fictional cop from an old radio show from the 50s called Dragnet. The show had this iconic theme and it went like this. (tense big band music) Friday was a very straightforward, almost relentless, character and the catchphrase associated with his character was "Just the facts." "All we want are the facts, ma'am," was the sort of thing that he would say. And that's what we're talking about today: just the facts. There's this idea called objectivity. That you can talk about something without inserting any opinions which are personal thoughts or beliefs. Doing this, being objective, is very difficult; opinions want to creep in. So what does it mean for a summary to be objective? It means it isn't influenced by feelings or opinions, it's not written in the first person, it's about the text, not me, and it's not a judgment or a review of the information. Let's be clear here; it's not bad to have opinions. In my opinion, it is good to have opinions, but they do not have a place in summaries. You can put opinions to use when you analyze or evaluate something. When you're looking at summaries and you're trying to determine whether one is objective or not, look for words that cast judgment. Does the writer say something is good or terrible or useful or useless? Let's do this together. I'll take this text and summarize it without any opinions. Polar bears hunt for seals on thick sea ice in the Arctic. As the Earth grows warmer, though, sea ice gets thinner. With less stable ground, some hungry polar bears search for food inland, often dangerously close to human environments. Although polar bears usually keep to themselves, a very scared or angry one could attack, and even eat, a human. Several villages have set up polar bear patrols as a result. The patrollers zoom around on snowmobiles, using bright lights and loud noises to scare away polar bears. Hopefully, the polar bears find another snack later on. Here's my summary: Climate change causes polar bears to encroach on human habitats to search for food. As a consequence, these villages have set up polar bear patrols to frighten them away. As a person who cares about climate change, as well as the wellbeing of bears and human beings, I have all sorts of opinions about this, but for the purposes of summarizing that paragraph, I have to put them aside. Just the facts, ma'am. (Dragnet theme) If you get good enough at making objective summaries, you'll start noticing when opinion creeps into things you expect to be objective. And it won't be obvious like bears are terrible and humans are right to scare them away or climate change ravages bear habitats, sending defenseless bears into the jaws of doom: human villages. But it might be in the way a story is framed. Like, there's a difference between bears move into human habitats and bears are forced into human habitats. What causes them to move? Forced by whom or by what? Sometimes what's not in a text can be as important as what's in it. Experiment with this a little. Try summarizing some news articles and see if you can restate the facts of the stories without inserting any opinions. It's a fun challenge and it may expose an opinion where you didn't expect to see it. Objectively, you can learn anything. David out. Constant vigilance!