Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing 

Robert Harris
Version Date: February 27, 2014



What is a Summary?

While a paraphrase (see Learning Strategy 2) changes a sentence or two into the about the same number of your own words, a summary condenses the source material into fewer words. A summary can condense a paragraph to a sentence, reduce ten pages to a paragraph, or even sum up a book in a few sentences--or even one. Therefore, you can see that a summary provides a lot of flexibility in the degree of condensation. It all depends on your purpose.

Why Should You Summarize?

Speaking generally, summarizing is valuable because it requires you to

All of these activities enhance learing: time spent with a book, article, or subject has the highest impact on learning it; thinking about the relative importance of part of information improves your critical thinkiing and analytical skills; and rewriting in your own words increases understanding and retention.

More specifically, summarizing--rewriting the information in  your own, fewer words--is helpful for learning because it causes you to

You are certainly aware that there is an enormous amount of information in the world, and the situation is not going to get any better. Too much information can actually be detrimental to learning. Our brains simply do not have the capacity--the mental horsepower--to process and retain it all. So condensing helps retention. "Less is more" as they say.

How to Summarize

To summarize and make the result shorter than the original


Summaries vary in the degree of condensation they use. The degree depends on the information and what the planned use of the sumary is. (Study guide, abstracted information for a research paper, condensation for future reference long after you've read the entire work, or simply an exercies in helping you remember what you've read.)

Some summaries reduce the material to one fourth of the original (25%), while others might condense to a tenth (10%0 or even a twentieth (5%) of the original. Generally, the longer the original, the more condensed the summary. For example, you wouldn't want to summarize a 400-page book to a 25% size (100 pages) because the effort would be too great and  100 pages is too much material to deal with as a summary. (Summaries are intended to be short, accessible tools for highlighting the crucial aspects of a book or article or other information set.)

Some questions to ask as you plan your summary are:
Working with any material this closely will  help you understand and remember it. And you will improve your thinking skills also.

Summarizing as a Learning Strategy

As a learning strategy, summarizing is quite powerful because it requires you to


High Performance Learning

There is just too much information in the world for anyone to attempt to process even a tiny fraction of it. To reduce the quantum of information you must deal with--and in many cases remember--apply some of these strategies for making the sum of all knowledge easier:



VirtualSalt Home
Learning Strategy 1: Mnemonics
Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing
Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing
Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring
Learning Strategy 5: Self Explanation
Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal
Learning Strategy 7: Self Assessment
Learning Strategy 8: The SQ3R Reading Method
Learning Strategy 9: Note Taking
Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card System
Learning Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Learning Strategy 12: Conversation
Learning Strategy 13: Group Interaction
Learning Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures
Learning Strategy 16: Study Cycles
Learning Strategy 17: Sleep and Rest
Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist
Learning Strategy 20: Asking Questions
Learning Strategy 21: Idea Linking
Learning Strategy 22: How to Use a Book
Learning Strategy 23: Active Listening
Learning Strategy 24: Close Reading
Learning Strategy 25: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 26: Power Thinking
Learning Strategy 27: Planning for Learning
Learning Strategy 28: Outlining
Learning Strategy 29: Analogies

Copyright 2013 by Robert Harris | CCC 7000520813 | How to cite this page
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com