Restating and Summarizing

Video Lesson on Author Purpose: Definition and Examples

Have you ever gotten to the end of a book or a reading passage and then realized you don't even remember what you read? It's easy to get lost in the details of a long piece of writing and lose track of the main point. This can make it difficult to remember the big ideas in a book, answer questions about a reading passage, or write an essay on a reading topic. That's why it's important to learn how to restate a main idea and summarize key points. Restating means expressing the same idea in different words, but not necessarily in a shorter form. Summarizing means quickly going over main ideas in a shorter from than the original idea.

For example, let's say that you just read a biography about Abraham Lincoln. The biography contains a whole bunch of details about Lincoln's life. If you had to tell someone about the biography or write an essay about it, you wouldn't restate every sentence you read in the book word for word. Instead, you would rephrase the facts that you have learned and summarize key points about Lincoln's life and accomplishments.

In this lesson, we'll explore ways to restate an idea and condense large amounts of information into a summary of main points.

How to Restate an Idea

Restating an idea is just saying it in different words. A restatement uses different sentence structure. When you want to restate an idea, don't start with the original phrasing and try to change it. In fact, don't look at the original phrasing at all. Instead, think of the idea in your head and try to come up with a different way of putting it from scratch.

Here's some practice. Take the following sentence: Saskatoon is colder than Chicago, but many cities in Siberia are even colder than Saskatoon. Can you rephrase that? Let's start by taking the words out, so you don't get distracted by the way it's originally phrased. That gives you an idea of what the sentence means, but without the original wording to distract you. Now, try to rephrase that.

How about: Chicagoans might complain about the cold, but residents of Saskatoon have more reason to grumble, and people living in Siberia often have it even worse. In this version, the focus is on the people living in each place, not just the place itself.

Or: Temperatures in Saskatoon often drop precipitously in the winter. The city is colder than Chicago on average, but it still doesn't measure up to parts of Siberia. Here, the focus is back on the cities with the sentence simply rearranged to say the same thing in a different way.

There are many other equally correct ways that you can rephrase this, so don't worry if your rephrasing is different. These are just examples of two possible ways that you could use different words to communicate the same idea.

How to Summarize

Unlike a restatement, a summary condenses the original text into a shorter version. Typically, a summary briefly mentions the main points but doesn't repeat all the details. If you're summarizing an argument, the summary should touch on the important claims, but without going into all the details about the evidence used to support the argument. When you write a summary, take a step back from the book, essay or passage that you're summarizing.

Instead of reading through the text, think about it as a whole. What are the main points? If the reader could only remember three or four things, what would you want them to remember? It sometimes helps to write down your summary as bullet points first, before you turn it into complete sentences. You can practice this by trying to summarize a book you've read of a movie you've seen and then, looking up summaries online and comparing them to your summary. But first, try this. Can you summarize what you learned in this lesson? Try to think of just the main ideas, don't get caught up in the details.

Lesson Summary

Now let's see how well you did at summarizing the lesson. We'll start with a list of bullet points describing the main points and then put them together into a short paragraph.

  • Restate: say something again in different words
  • Summarize: give a short version of just the main points.
  • A restatement can be longer or shorter than the original text, but a summary is always shorter.
  • To restate or summarize, start by looking away from the text so you don't get hung up on the original wording.

A bulleted list is fine for taking notes in class, but for an essay, you can't use bullet points, so let's put your restatement summary into paragraph form:

Two important skills for engaging with books and reading passages are restating and summarizing. When you restate an idea, you say it again in different words. When you summarize an argument, you give a short version of just the main points. A restatement can be longer or shorter than the original text, but a summary is always shorter. When you're restating or summarizing, start by looking away from the text so you don't get hung up on the original wording.

It's totally fine if the wording of your summary was different from this exact paragraph. There are other ways to phrase a summary, just make sure it does the job of recapping the most important points.

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