SONY- Pedagogy The Summary

Pedagogy - The Summary

In the past chapters we have covered—

Summary: Consists of a What Statement and a Why Statement. Together they tell readers what the document’s subject is and why it is important.

Old: Discusses what readers probably already know. This variable forms the foundation for what is to come.

New: Discusses what readers probably do not know much about. It’s a variable they are likely to find interesting.

Why: Tells readers why the subject is important. This variable keeps readers from guessing why the writer created the subject.

Together, the main letters of the document’s four parts form SONY.  

The Summary

Where does a summary occur in a document?

    1. At the beginning?
    2. At the end?
    3. At both the beginning and the end?

The answer: at the beginning.

Summaries at the End

Waiting until the end to summarize the document creates two problems:

    • It confuses readers
    • It demeans readers

Confusing Readers

Summarizing at the end and not at the beginning is like taking a journey and not knowing where you are going and then, when you arrive somewhere, you find out where you are.  Does that make sense? In the military, it would be like going on a dangerous mission, and at the end being told what the mission is.

Having a summary at the topic at the beginning and at the end is very useful in these situations:[1]

    • A very long document. If the document is, say 30-50 pages, then summarizes at the end is useful because it has taken readers a long time to read the document. The summary at the end is a polite way to help weaker readers remember what they have read.
    • A very technical document. Writers of extremely technical material usually include a summary at the end to help readers comprehend what they have perused.
    • An argumentative essay or paper. Argumentative papers are considered documents meant to be read aloud – and they often are! Readers thus become listeners and leave after the document is finished being delivered.

Demeaning Readers

Readers of student work are almost always educated adults. All such adults have high reading levels. Repeating the main points at the end implies that they lack reading skills to understand the document. Repeating at the end what you have said at the beginning and discussed throughout the document demeans the reader’s intelligence.

Why Are Students Taught to Summarize at the End?

Students often ask: If the summary should only go at the beginning, then why were we earlier taught to state the thesis at the beginning and restate it at the end?

Some history:

America was becoming a world industrial power following our Civil War. All families wanted their son (and some daughters) to be college-educated. Harvard was generally considered the top college in the country. It was swamped with applicants. Its faculty therefore decided to have a writing test to determine who could enter.

They based the test on a communications concept from Ancient Greece:[1]

[1] Summaries at the end also occur in most textbook chapters, to help students study.

[1] Epicherema

 Main idea
Secondary idea 1
Secondary idea 2
Secondary idea 3
Restate the main idea

The pattern became known as the “Five Paragraph Essay” or the “Hamburger Organization.”
(The beginning and end are the buns, with three hamburger patties between.)

The organization is effective for very short documents, such as a short test, but for other situations there are several problems:

    • It was meant for speeches. It never meant to be used for teaching writing.
    • You should restate the main idea at the end of a speech so listeners remember it. Readers, however, can reread if they need to.
    • The concept was for five parts, not five
    • The Ancient Greeks pointed out that not all parts were necessary for the speech.
    • Paragraphs are usually 3-10 sentences long. The maximum number of sentences in a five-paragraph document is 50. Sentences are usually about 15 words long. The maximum number of words in a five-paragraph paper would be 750 – about three typed pages. What happens when students are assigned a ten-page paper, common in colleges?

The Harvard faculty declared the method invalid 18 months after they created it. However, the organization had “caught on.” Many teachers and textbooks today use the method, not realizing that it was meant for a test only.   

Using a Two-Sentence Introduction

The What Statement and Why Statement together form a two-sentence introduction. It has two enormous advantages over long intros:

    • It helps you focus on what you are writing.
    • It helps readers focus on what they are reading.

Longer introductions tend to drift in their content. That causes you to meander in the document, resulting in disorganization.  Longer intros also cause readers not to understand the primary point you are trying to make.

But What If an Instructor Wants a Long(er) Introduction?

If an instructor wants a long – or at least longer – introduction, then then write a two-sentence introduction and write the paper. Then add material to the two-sentence introduction. Do not change the two sentences.  

Consider Writing a One-Sentence Summary

You have learned to make a two-sentence introduction (aka “summary”) with the following pattern:

            What Statement                                                        Why Statement

       Variable  – verb or verb phrase – variable               That is important because ….

In some cases, you can reduce the two-sentence introduction to one sentence.  To do that—

    1. Delete That is important
    2. Connect the because to the What Statement.

For example:

Prompt: Where exactly would you like to work for at least ten years? Why?

Two sentences:

I would like to work for at least ten years at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. That is important to me because I want to help eliminate fibropapillomastosis, a disease that kills green sea turtles.

One sentence:

I would like to work for at least ten years at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego because I want to help eliminate fibropapillomastosis, a disease that kills green sea turtles.


I would like to work for at least ten years at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, because I want to help eliminate fibropapillomastosis, a disease that kills green sea turtles.

Avoid One-Variable Summaries

Beware of one-variable summaries. They occur when you restate one variable. For example:

What is your favorite pet? Why?

My favorite pet is a tarantula named Weird.

“My favorite pet” and “a tarantula named Weird” are the same thing. There is only one variable and no relationship. Writing a paper with one variable is extremely difficult.

To fix the problem, add a variable:

I like pet tarantulas.

3+ Variable Summaries

A two-variable summary consists of two variables and one relationship. As you learned in the previous lesson, we call it the Barbell of Communication:

A What Statement with one variable has no relationship. For example, what is polar bears is relation to?

Fill in the blank:

            Number of Variables                                                  Number of Relationships

1                                                                                    0

2                                                                                    1

3                                                                                    ?

Here is a diagram to help you:

Most students say there are three relationships.  Fred & Alice, Alice & Sandi, and Sandi & Fred.

However, there are seven:

Fred & Alice
Alice & Sandi
Sandi & Fred
Fred & Alice vs. Sandi
Alice & Sandi vs. Fred
Fred & Sandi vs. Alice
All three together

Many students make the mistake of having too many variables. The result is a disorganized and non-factual document. Everything must be discussed thoroughly. If three variables result in seven relationships, how many relationships result from four variables? From five?[1]

Small Group Activity

Below are summaries of possible essays. Each one contains a major writing (not punctuation or spelling) error.  Some, indicated with (2) or (3) contain two or three. Determine what the error or errors are. Do not attempt to fix them.

Feel free to use the dictionary or the Net to look up unfamiliar words.

One example is excellent.  See if you can determine which one it is.

    1. Daniel Boone was a famous frontiersman. He is important because he opened up what is now Kentucky and Tennessee for settlement. (2 errors)
    2. Building a log cabin for a fishing lodge is economical. That is important because it can save you money.
    3. I have two Irish wolfhounds. They are important to me because they are my best friends. (2 errors)
    4. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa incorporates the sfumato technique. That is important because it blurs the edges of the subject being painted.
    5. I loved reading Mickey’s Spooky Night, because it is about a haunted house.
    6. The Amur leopard has a declining population.
    7. Arty Arnsworth, Pathina Dowd, Shamura DeCarte, Baskin Rabtodt, John Remsgood, and Patricia Dansman were all members of my graduating class who had successful careers. (3 errors)
    8. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” contains hidden references to the symptoms of the bubonic plague. That is important because he wanted readers to think about the South’s recent yellow fever epidemic while still enjoying the story’s horror.
    9. Terrance Hunt believes that the Easter Island moai statues were “walked” to their destinations rather than being dragged. That theory is important because it is a new idea.
    10. East African elephants respond to seasonal changes in rainfall because they change direction.

Small Group or Individual Activity

Complete the exercise:  Haiti

Optional Activity