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Learn to Summarize: Exercises

Now, let’s try some exercises to check your understanding of how to summarize.

Exercise I:

Knowing how to argue is a useful skill. We use it on ourselves in order to arrive at decisions; we use it with others as we discuss business strategies or policy changes on committees, as members of the local PTA, a law office, an environmental action group; we use it as fundraisers for a cause, like saving whales, we use it in applying for foundation grants and in drafting a letter to the editor of our hometown paper; we use it when we discuss child abuse, toxic waste, tax cuts, pothole repair, working mothers, and university investment policies. Our ability to express opinions persuasively—to present our views systematically as arguments—will allow us to make some difference in public life. If we lack the necessary skills, we are condemned to sit on the sidelines. Instead of doing the moving, we will be among the moved; more persuasive voices will convince us of what me must do. (pp. 222-223).

--Hall, B. & Birkerts, S. (1998). Writing well (9th ed.). New York: Longman.

Topic Sentence: Knowing how to argue is a useful skill.

For this exercise, you’ll have to choose the main points. Choose the main points from the passage in the selection of sentences/phrases below.

  1. “We must use it on ourselves in order to arrive at decisions”
  2. “members of the local PTA”
  3. “we use it with others”
  4. “drafting a letter to the editor of our hometown paper”
  5. “Our ability . . . will allow us to make some difference in public life”
  6. “we are condemned to sit on the sidelines”
  7. “saving whales”

Once you’ve identified the main points in the passage you can check your answers by scrolling to the bottom of this page. Your next step will be to draft a summary based on the main points that you’ve chosen. Use some scratch paper to write down your summary.

You can see one way to summarize this passage at the bottom of this page.


In the next few exercises, you’ll have to identify the topic sentence and main points. Then, draft a summary based on that information. UHV students can schedule an appointment with an Student Success Center tutor who can discuss summary with you.

Exercise II:

Audiences want the sense that you’re talking directly to them and that you care that they understand and are interested. They’ll forgive you if you get tangled up in a sentence and end it ungrammatically. They won’t forgive you if you seem to have a “canned” talk that you’re going to deliver no matter who the audience is or how they respond. You can convey a sense of caring to your audience by making direct eye contact with them and by using a conversational style. (p. 475)

---Locker, K. O. (2003). Business and administrative communication (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.

Exercise III:

Writing a memo is essentially like writing any other form of technical communication. First you have to understand your audience and purpose. Then you gather your information, create some sort of outline, write a draft, and revise it. Making the memo look like a memo- adding the structural features that your readers will expect—is relatively simple. Your software has templates, or you can build the structure into your outline or shape the draft at some later stage. (p. 424)

--Markel, M. (1996). Technical communication: Situations and strategies. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Exercise IV:

Vocalizations that might be construed as symbols of various sorts in different animals are usually accompanied by gestures. One student found that only 3 percent of the signals among rhesus monkeys were not accompanied by gestures. Whatever animals express through sounds seems to reflect not a logical sequence of thoughts but a sequence accompanying a series of emotional states. Animals’ communicative activities thus differ from human language in that they consist essentially of signs not arbitrary symbols. (p.470)

--Finegan, E. (1994). Language its structure and use (2nd ed.). Fortworth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.


Exercise I: Choose the Main Points (Answers)

In addition to the topic sentence, numbers 1, 3, and 5 represent the more important points in this paragraph.

Exercise I: Sample Summary

The ability to argue is valuable because we use it for so many reasons: both to make choices for ourselves and to persuade others. Without this ability to argue we lose our power to affect change (Hall & Birkerts, 1998).


If you wish to practice your paraphrase or summary skills more, you can pick up the handout titled “Paraphrase/Summary Practice,” which contains more sample exercises.