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Summaries in Context


As mentioned in the overview to this module, a summary can be a very useful tool. Below are some examples of summaries used in different texts, and for different purposes. By reading through these summaries and clicking on the highlighted text to see commentary on the writing, students will have a better sense of how strong summary writing skills are helpful in communicating ideas and information.

Example 1, A Book Review

Example 2, Summary in a Journal Article

Example 3, Summaries in Research Writing

Example 4, Summary in an Encyclopedia Entry


Example 1: A Book Review

A book review is generally a short essay written for publication in a journal or newspaper column. Readers look to book reviews to find out something about the content of books they might be interested in, as well as to get another person's impression of the quality of the book (a critique). Hence, writers of book reviews must include a good deal of summary writing in their work. They must decide what the main thrust of the work is, and give the reader some sense of the book's major points and organization. Often, a book reviewer must condense 200 pages or more into a 1000 words or so—quite a challenge! Click on the highlighted portions of the text for commentary.

guitar player"Race, Rock and Elvis," (Book Review) by Pete Daniel

In his ambitious Race, Rock, and Elvis Michael Bertrand poses a central question: "Did rock 'n' roll represent an experience capable of affecting the ideology of race?" (p. 47). The black influence on rock 'n' roll was no secret, yet becoming a fan rarely signaled support for integration. Many white southern youth growing up in the 1950s embraced rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll music—and segregation. The black roots of this music and the accompanying style invaded all levels of southern society, provoking both adoration and condemnation. Bertrand has examined ideology, politics, and consumerism in seeking the connection between music and social change.

While African American music had exerted enormous influence on U.S. culture earlier, after World War II rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll infiltrated white society through the radio, jukeboxes, and recordings. Rock 'n' roll, which incorporated both rhythm and blues and country music, emerged from the working class and exerted a powerful influence on the younger generation. Elvis Presley was the messenger. "In Elvis Presley," Bertrand argues, "the complex issues of race, class, age, region, and commerce intersected" (p. 27). Bertrand also observes the impact of migration, as rural youth adjusted to city pulses and adopted the vocabulary, wardrobe, hairstyle, and music that redefined them as urban.

Southern musicians, black and white, lived under different rules from other southerners. They sometimes privately played music together and borrowed each others' licks. Black musicians often played for white audiences but always remained on stage as performers. While allowing black performers such proximity to white dancers was embedded in regional custom, southern whites performing emotional music with black style raised complex questions of both race and class. Bertrand searches for the elements that could have swayed white ideology. Whites attended rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll concerts, listened to late-night clear channel radio programs or to local black stations, played their favorite records on jukeboxes, bought records, and talked about popular tunes. Black culture thus moved into new spaces where attitudes could be changed. Yet rock 'n' roll turned on one axis and civil rights on another. Rock 'n' roll attracted opposition from segregationists and from preachers who saw in the music the horrors of amalgamation. Yet southern white religion also contained the power to undermine segregation, and Bertrand might have found significant insights by examining white religious ideology.

Bertrand points out that the white elite in the 1950s had difficulty finding anything positive about rock 'n' roll. He explores the conflict between rival music associations ASCAP and BMI that clearly revealed class divisions in the music business. For Tin Pan Alley songwriters, it was difficult to accept struggling white musicians as their peers, so they dismissed rock 'n' roll. Producers, seeing promise in de-tuning rock 'n' roll-that is, taming its spontaneity for the mass market--covered these records with mainstream artists. By the same token, some African Americans condemned Presley for appropriating and shaping black music to make it palatable to white audiences. Ultimately, the wildness of rock 'n' roll yielded to the pop market. Bertrand's juxtaposition of working-class whites who rode the rock 'n' roll wave and Tin Pan Alley composers effectively accentuates the class tension contained in rock 'n' roll. Composers did not understand that working-class white musicians unselfconsciously adapted black music and style as a vehicle of upward mobility.

When Bertrand argues that the generation of whites who reached adolescence after World War II lacked a context to analyze rock 'n' roll and "had to confront the social and racial issues attached to rock 'n' roll before they could endorse the music itself," he reaches too far (p. 95). Had this been so, rock 'n' roll might never have gained popularity, for confronting racial issues had never been the strong suit of either old or young southern whites. The country's intellectual elite who attempted to control taste in the 1950s, Bertrand argues, stared past rock 'n' roll. Middle-class adults sought respectability at the symphony, the theater, and in classical recordings. Elvis Presley, Bertrand suggests, personified the generational and class friction created by rock 'n' roll. Presley was poor, white, southern, tasteless, untalented, and lewd, according to his detractors. Those who focus on Presley's debt to black music, enormous popularity, and wealth, Bertrand explains, lose sight of "the singer's estranged position in relation to the mainstream and how that contributed to his music" (p. 215).

Bertrand covers a wide band of material searching for the link between music and race relations, and, although he concludes that such a connection remains nebulous, in the process he explores crucial issues that defined the post-World War II South.

Daniel, Pete. "Race, Rock, and Elvis," Rev. of Race, Rock & Elvis, by Michael T. Bertrand. Journal of Southern History May 2002: 501.

Example 2: Summary in a Journal Article

In her essay "One or two things I know about us," Dunbar-Ortiz writes to encourage people to change common misconceptions about "Okies," and including some summary in her essay helps her accomplish this end. For example, Dunbar-Ortiz needs to inform the reader about the real story of the Okies in order to invalidate typical stereotypes, but she must not go so far into this history that she loses sight of her main purpose.

Click on the highlighted text for commentary about Dunbar-Ortiz' use of summary.

"One or two things I know about us: Rethinking the image and role of the Okies," by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Note: Only a portion of the original essay is included below)

I was born country and this country is what I love.
--Alabama, "Born Country," 1992

When you're running down my country you're on the fighting side of me.
-Merle Haggard, "The Fighting Side of Me," 1970

While at work on this paper, I glanced at the headline in the morning newspaper: "SWAT Team Kills Gunman at Sacramento Tax Office," and I said to myself, "Probably an Okie." I read the article and found no reference to Okies-that would never happen in California these days-but the evidence was there: A white man named Jim Ray Holloway, age fifty-three, from Manteca, wearing a cowboy hat, carrying a rifle, a shotgun, and a hand gun, ex-cop, mad about taxes. The name, the age, the hometown in the agricultural Central Valley, the cowboy hat, the kinds of weapons, the career, the lightening rage at the state, all point to his being an Okie.

Although the newspaper report was sketchy about the man's background, I can almost imagine his life: Possibly the child of Oklahoma sharecropping parents who migrated to California during the mid-1930s Dust Bowl, he was born one year after the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, perhaps in a labor camp in the Central Valley. His older brothers and sisters would have been taunted in school for being ragged, hungry, and dirty; his family was not allowed in the many places that hung signs that said "No Okies." His parents probably got on their feet during the wartime boom and soon he could feel superior at least toward the Mexicans and blacks because his parents taught him to be proud of being white and a native-born American.

He might have grown up to drive a truck or work in the oil fields or construction, but he became a California Highway Patrolman. Very likely he voted for Ronald Reagan for governor, Nixon for president, served in Vietnam, and hailed the presidency of Reagan. But he probably felt he had nothing to show for it and his beloved country was going to blacks on welfare, Vietnamese boat people, and the feminists and gays, with him footing the tax bill while no one had ever helped his family when they were in need. It's a common story among the descendants of the Dust Bowl refugees.

The Okies were more accurately Southwestern, for they came not only from Oklahoma but also surrounding states. According to historian James Gregory in his definitive study, American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California, by 1950, four million people or nearly a quarter of all persons born in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri, lived outside that region. A third of them settled in California while most of the others moved to Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. The best known period of this trek westward is the period of the Dust Bowl, the 1930s, when the majority of the migrants first camped, and then settled mainly in the agricultural valleys of California. During the Second World War many of the Central Valley Dust Bowl migrants moved nearer the defense plants, particularly around Los Angeles, to work. And a half-million more Southwestern migrants, dubbed "defense Okies," arrived for wartime jobs.

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. "One or two things I know about us: Rethinking the image and role of the Okies."Monthly Review Jul/Aug 2002: 13-28


Example 3: Summaries in Research Writing

This exerpt from a scholarly essay for the Journal of American Folklore shows summary used to acknowledge the work of other researchers, and show how this writer, Craig Morrison, has been influenced by another writer's thinking. Notice how Morrison seems to engage in conversation with folklorist Ellen Stekert, and then to move forward with his own argument. In research papers, summary allows us both to give credit to the ideas of others and to make use of those ideas. One should never simply absorb the ideas of others into one's own text without such acknowledgement.  Click on highlighted text for commentary.

"Folk Revival Roots Still Evident in 1990's Recordings of San Francisco Psychedelic Veterans," by Craig Morrison

"Psychedelic music," as created and played in San Francisco in the 1960s, drew far more heavily from the folk revival that preceded it than has been previously acknowledged. The revival's influence on San Francisco psychedelia can be seen in its ideology, repertoire, instrumental techniques, vocal harmonies, critique of politics and society, inclusion of female vocalists and penchant for playacting. In 1966, folklorist Ellen Stekert identified four groups of people involved in the revival: traditional singers, utilizers, imitators (she later preferred emulators), and creators of a new aesthetic (Stekert 1993:96-100). Traditional singers learned their music orally in their early years. They inspired the emulators, such as the New Lost City Ramblers, who immersed themselves in traditional Southern musical and cultural milieus while aiming for a purity of intention and presentation referred to as "authenticity." Utilizers, such as the Weavers and the Kingston Trio, made folk music commercial by freely changing tunes, texts, and styles to fit an existing urban aesthetic. The fourth group, which included Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, belonged to the new aesthetic, which created new artistic traditions out "a merger of vocal and instrumental folk, classical, jazz, and pop styles" (Stekert 1993:99).The psychedelic music of San Francisco may be viewed as one stream of these new traditions; it emerged from a group of artists who had participated in the folk revival as emulators and utilizers.

Morrison, Craig. "Folk Revival Roots Still Evident in 1990s Recordings of San Francisco Psychedelic Veterans"
Journal of American Folklore 114:478-480

Example 4: Summary in an Encyclopedia Entry

Encyclopedias are books that condense (summarize) large quantities of information to provide individuals with information quickly and efficiently. One can turn to an encyclopedia for a quick overview of anything from internal combustion engines to tulip cultivation. Below is an example of an encyclopedia entry for "country music" from the Britannica Student Encyclopedia.

Country Music:

A commercial offshoot of the folk music of the rural South, country music is an American art form that gained worldwide appeal after World War II. Originally known as hillbilly or mountain music, country music grew from the folk music that was brought to North America by Anglo-Celtic settlers in the 1700s and 1800s. The music changed as it came in contact with ethnic musics—Acadian (Cajun) in Louisiana, Latin in the Southwest, African throughout much of the South—and such popular music as that found in vaudeville, minstrel shows, and Hawaiian tent shows. It was also called country and Western music because of its popularity with cowboys. (See also Folk Music.)

Traditionally country musicians have been most proficient on stringed instruments. The violin, or fiddle, was the most popular instrument on the frontier because of its easy portability. To this day fiddle contests remain a feature of the country music scene. The banjo was adapted from the African American culture, and the five-string model is now universally popular among performers of the style known as bluegrass. The guitar has long been a staple of country music bands and singers. String bass and Hawaiian guitar have been used since the 1920s, and their modern descendants are the electric bass and the pedal steel guitar. Drums, pianos, and electrified instruments, used as early as the 1930s by Western swing bands, are heard on country recordings from the 1950s.

In 1922 radio stations WBAP in Fort Worth, Tex., and WSB in Atlanta, Ga., broadcast shows called barn dances, modeled after the informal social dancing of the frontier (see Folk Dance, “Folk Dances of the United States”). Chicago's WLS started what became the National Barn Dance in 1924, and WSM in Nashville, Tenn., began its Barn Dance—the future Grand Ole Opry—in November 1925, just one month after going on the air. Record companies also discovered the commercial possibilities of this music. Fiddler Eck (A.C.) Robertson traveled to New York City and in 1922 made the first hillbilly records, ‘Arkansas Traveller' and ‘Sallie Goodin'. The Georgia fiddler John Carson had the first sales success the next year with his Okeh record of ‘Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane'. A Texas native who actually had voice training and light opera experience, Vernon Dalhart (his real name was Marion Slaughter) sold millions of records in the 1920s for dozens of different companies. His first big sellers were ‘The Prisoner's Song' and ‘The Wreck of the Old '97' for Victor in 1924. In 1927 Jimmie Rodgers, originally a yodeler, made his first recordings. Because Rodgers' Victor records inspired numerous men to become country entertainers, he became known as the Father of Country Music.

Hollywood's singing cowboys—men like Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and Roy Rogers—won for country music national and international audiences during the later 1930s. Even though record sales for country and other types of music slipped during the Great Depression, radio continued to broadcast a large array of live country music talent, usually in the early morning, noon, or late night hours. New barn dances were heard on the airwaves from Wheeling, W. Va., and Des Moines, Iowa, and two of the older local shows—Chicago's National Barn Dance and Nashville's Grand Ole Opry—gained network radio audiences during the 1930s. Powerful Mexican border radio stations boomed transcribed country music programs of the Carter Family and others across the nation.

World War II accelerated country music's growth away from an exclusively Southern and rural phenomenon. Southern servicemen took the music with them to far-flung parts of the nation and the world, while civilian defense workers from the South brought their love of the music into the various centers of war production. Such country stars as Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Bob Wills, and Al Dexter were as popular with servicemen as Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby.

The postwar years brought a newfound national prosperity, which boosted country music to greater commercial heights. Singers and business executives closely tied to the music sought and won a new respectability from trade papers and national media. The old terms hillbilly and mountain were replaced by country, and even for a time by country and Western, in recognition of the new popularity of the cowboy singers on television. The country music industry found its home in Nashville, where the Grand Ole Opry emerged as the top live radio broadcast, and recording and publishing companies opened offices.

Enduring a temporary eclipse of market share and popularity because of the impact of rock and roll in the late 1950s, country music came back strong during the 1960s and '70s with new performers and styles. Network, syndicated, and local television programming boosted the fortunes of country music generally and such artists as Porter Wagoner, Jimmy Dean, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton in particular. While the Grand Ole Opry declined in relative importance, as did live radio performances generally, the number of radio stations programming country music records full time rose from a low point of fewer than 60 in 1961 to more than 2,500 in the 1980s.

Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, Tammy Wynette, and others popularized a style known as the Nashville Sound, which featured smooth arrangements emphasizing string sections and background vocalists. Nashville's preeminence in the recording business, however, was challenged by competition in Bakersfield, Calif., which in the 1960s was home base for Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and Austin, Tex., the 1970s site of the rise of Willie Nelson and other stars with a new style dubbed progressive or outlaw.

Respectability and national acceptance are still by-words with country music industry leaders. Beyond doubt country music has broadened its audience by adapting stylistic elements—both vocal and instrumental—of rock and other popular music. The crossover phenomenon came to the fore in the late 1970s and early '80s, when such pop-country stars as Kenny Rogers, Crystal Gayle, Barbara Mandrell, Alabama, Larry Gatlin, and the Oak Ridge Boys attained success with younger, urban, pop-music fans.

Yet the appeal of tradition persists. In fact, country music's newest star performers—the ones who dominate the industry in sales of recordings and the ones who win the industry awards—are largely traditional in their sound, style, and themes: George Strait, Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, the Judds, k.d. lang, and Dwight Yoakam, for example. Older traditional artists like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Loretta Lynn remain popular, while nightclubs and outdoor festivals ring with the sounds of bluegrass.



Example 1: A Book Review

Example 2: Summary in a Journal Article

Example 3: Summary in Research Writing

Example 4: Summary in an Encyclopedia Entry

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