Summaries Are Arguments

Summaries are Arguments

Every time you summarize someone else’s article (or book, or editorial, or autobiography, or ((god forbid)) memoir), you are making an argument, whether you like it or not. Condensing a long work into a short work requires you to make choices. You edit out what you think is unimportant. You impose a narrative structure on the material that remains after you have discarded what you deem to be irrelevant to the primary point of the original.

See?

You’re making an argument.

When your Summary fails to take a position on the material provided in the original, it is wasting everybody’s time. (You can waste your own if you like, but don’t waste mine.)

Example 1

STUDENT BLIND SUMMARY:

Women with breast cancer will not always get the answers they are looking for. They may go to a doctor and the doctor may tell them they don’t have it when they really do or the doctor may tell them they have it when they really don’t which are both bad but reasonable of happening. Some say that at certain places, only about 80% of all tests are read correctly and 20% are given false information. Because of false information given and pressure or lawsuits get put on doctors for not reading them right, the doctors are starting to perform at a better level knowing its on their readings to save a life. There are some doctors who do not have the right training and should not be doing the job. Just because they are doctors and more sounds better, in contrast, less doctors who know more about what is happening in the imaging is a better strategy. Doctors need to be trained to have the best look at first so they do not give out wrong information causing more tests.

—DSH: MyStudent, let me offer some rhetorical advice since you’re sabotaging your own good work on your Blind Summary.

  1. The best claims combine a FACT with a CONSEQUENCE to make an ETHICAL JUDGMENT.
  2. You flirt with this possibility in your first two sentences, but fail to capitalize on the opportunity.
  3. You say: “Women with breast cancer will not always get the answers they are looking for. They may go to a doctor and the doctor may tell them they don’t have it when they really do or the doctor may tell them they have it when they really don’t which are both bad but reasonable of happening.”
  4. THE FACT: Some patients get false positives; others, false negatives.
  5. THE CONSEQUENCE: Both are bad.
  6. YOUR ETHICAL OBJECTION: None stated.
  7. ADDITIONAL TACTICAL ERROR: You start by speaking for “women with breast cancer,” but your second sentence attempts to speak also for “false positives,” which are women without breast cancer.
  8. THE RESULT: You waste your first two sentences by advancing no particular argument. Every word of a Purposeful Summary develops a particular opinionated point of view. Also, you confuse your readers about who you’re advocating for: cancer victims or false diagnosis victims.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE SAID:

Mammograms are not accurate. They deceive women with cancer into believing they’re healthy. Less tragically, they falsely diagnose tumors where there are none. Neither outcome is acceptable.

If you can adopt an attitude that unambiguous, you’ll be well on your way to achieving the confidence necessary for a good essay. I strenuously advise you to stop “trying to see things both ways,” if that’s what you’re doing. Deliberate ambiguity is just as bad as unintentional ambiguity. Don’t quibble. Acknowledge uncertainty where it exists, but wherever choices can be made, MAKE THEM.

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