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Writing Summaries: Frederick Douglass’s “My Escape from Slavery”

Summary is a natural place to start any writing activity that involves reading other texts.  Summary is often used as a prewriting step to clarify the author’s actual message and purpose.  Often this involves active reading, highlighting passages, annotating in the margins, and rereading.  It’s very difficult to use someone else’s words and ideas when you aren’t certain what is really going on in the text. 

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For this assignment, you are asked to compose an effective summary of the Frederick Douglas Escape from Slavery essay. To help you compose an effective summary, please review the attached document “How to Write a Summary.”

Concepts to keep in mind when writing a successful summary:

· Summary Definition A summary provides a concisely expressed explanation of the selection’s content: what the author’s main points are, what particular methods the author uses, etc.  Your focus in summary writing is always on the primary and main supporting points rather than on the details of the text.

· The text is objective: this means you should not editorialize or evaluate the text by either reading between the lines or judging the article as “masterful” or “insulting,” etc.

· The text is in third person: For a brief summary like this, there is no reason for any I statements such as “I think she’s saying…” or “I believe…” etc.

· The author is the subject in most, if not all, sentences.  Remember, people, not articles, write, so avoid phrases such as “The article is saying…”  Instead, start most sentences with subject/verb like this: “Heywood argues…,” “The author claims…,” “She supports her assertion with…” etc.


· The summary is a minimum of 10 sentences long (maximum length is two pages) not counting the title and reference pages, which you must include.

· You have maintained objectivity and refrained from passing judgment.

· The author, designated by last name only, is included throughout the summary.

· The first sentence includes the title of the article and the author’s name.

· The text has been proofread for coherence, readability, and grammar errors.

Refer to the following document for assistance on how to write an effective summary:

Your paper should be 1-2 pages in length and conform to APA guidelines, Include at least three scholarly references in addition to the course textbook.

How to Write a Summary

Read the passage carefully. Determine its structure. Identify the author’s purpose in writing. (This will help you to distinguish between more important and less important information.) Reread, label, and underline. This time divide the passage into sections or stages of thought. The author’s use of paragraphing will often be a useful guide. Label, on the passage itself, each section or stage of thought. Underline key ideas and terms. Write one-sentence summaries, on a separate sheet of paper, of each stage of thought. Write a thesis–a one-sentence summary of the entire passage. The thesis should express the central idea of the passage, as you have determined it from the preceding steps. You may find it useful to keep in mind the information contained in the lead sentence or paragraph of most newspaper stories–the what, who, why, where, when, and how of the matter. For persuasive passages, summarize in a sentence the author’s conclusion. For descriptive passages, indicate the subject of the description and its key features. Note: In some cases a suitable thesis may already be in the original passage. If so, you may want to quote it directly in your summary. Write the first draft of your summary by (1) combining the thesis with your list of one-sentence summaries or (2) combining the thesis with one-sentence summaries plus significant details from the passage. In either case, eliminate repetition. Eliminate less important information. Disregard minor details, or generalize them. Use as few words as possible to convey the main ideas. Check your summary against the original passage, and make whatever adjustments are necessary for accuracy and completeness. Revise your summary, inserting transitional words and phrases where necessary to ensure coherence. Check for style. Avoid series of short, choppy sentences. Combine sentences for a smooth, logical flow of ideas. Check for grammatical correctness, punctuation, and spelling.

From Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, by L. Behrens and L. Rosen.

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