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Writing a summary

Helpful hints from Dr. William Greenway of Youngstown State University, Ohio

Cutting a long story shortTo summarize an essay, article, or book, you should not include your own thoughts on the matter, but describe the essay as objectively as possible, whether you agree with it or not, though you may suggest what you think the author is up to, what their agenda or strategy is, at the conclusion of the summary. Try to use pertinent quotations by the author, working them in gracefully where appropriate. Also, any important or conspicuous words, phrases, or terms should be put in quotation marks.

You can model your summary on the structure of the original, keeping the size of your paragraphs in roughly the same proportion as the paragraphs of the original. But you do not need to follow the author's organization slavishly. You might want to use your own organization based upon what you think the point of the essay is. A good summary of something is a critique of it because it makes explicit what has only been implicit. Understanding an argument is halfway work toward refuting or confirming it, so summary is a crucial first step toward using information, expertise, or opinion. It is essential that you read about paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting before you begin your summary. You must understand the differences between paraphrase, quotation, and plagiarism.

So a summary is intended to highlight objectively the main points of another writer's work. Although written in your own words, the summary does not include your opinions of the piece you are considering. Since the summary eliminates those details that are not needed to convey the major points, it is naturally shorter than the original. In general, a summary is from one fourth to one half the length of the original.

The problem we all face when attempting to summarize a piece of writing is figuring out what to include and what to leave out. Below are some tips on how to choose material to include in your summary.

  • Cross out the less important details.
  • Underline topic sentences and key ideas.
  • Take notes on those key ideas — jot down the information that clarifies the topic sentence, for example.

When you summarize, you might try following these steps:

  • Read the piece for understanding first. Never summarize as you read the article for the first time.
  • Before you begin to write, check the topic sentences and key words (words that are underlined, italicized, or capitalized). These will clue you in on main ideas.
  • Jot down the organization of the original and follow that pattern in your summary.
  • Check your summary to be sure you have been objective. Your opinions are not part of the original.
  • Check your summary to be sure that you have properly documented any words or phrases that you have taken from the original.
  • Identify your summary and its source. Some instructors will ask that you do this as part of the title of the piece; others will request a footnote.

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Get that job (2): Mastering job interviews

Original article by Neen James  |  Adapted by David V. Appleyard

Job interviewI've heard it said — in fact, it might well have been me that said it — there are few things more excruciating in professional life than the job interview. Job interviews are awful! Throughout my career I have attended many and conducted many more, and the truth is, whether you are the candidate or the interviewer, job interviews are challenging and confronting and difficult. Despite this, you can not only survive but learn to be a masterful interviewee by developing an understanding of what it is the interviewer needs to see, and by learning to conduct yourself with clarity and confidence.

Be prepared. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? You’d be surprised how many people don’t get this part right. Make a detailed list of all the information you need about your interview, including the:

  • Address
  • Name of the person you are meeting
  • Correct pronunciation of the interviewer's name
  • Approximate length of time the interview is expected to take
  • Directions to get to the meeting venue

Know the style of the interview. When you make the appointment, ask what form the interview will take. Is it a one-on-one interview? A panel interview? Or a group assessment activity? Also ask if there will be any testing involved. Knowing the style will help you to be better prepared and will prevent you from being surprised by an interview format different to what you were anticipating.

Know how to get there. If you plan to travel by public transport, allow extra time in case of delays. If you are driving, allow extra time in case of delays. If you are walking, allow extra time in case of delay — you get the picture? — no matter how you plan to get there, allow extra time in case of delays. There are not many worse ways to start an interview than to arrive late and flustered.

Dress appropriately. Different workplaces and different professions have different codes of dress. Understand what is appropriate for the type of position and organization you are being interviewed for and err on the side of the more conservative. Don’t wear too much make-up, jewelry, perfume or aftershave.

Do your homework. Research the company before the interview — look at their website, pick up a copy of their annual report, and ask others what they know about the organization. It is inexcusable to front up for a job interview not knowing anything about the company, and you’ll never convince anyone that they should employ you if you don’t even have a general understanding of the organization you’d be working for. Use the information you find to develop some questions to ask at the interview.

Good first impressions — when you meet the person or people who will be interviewing you, look them in the eye, smile and greet them with a firm (not too hard) handshake. If you aren’t used to shaking hands or don’t know how to shake hands properly…learn.

Smile. Concentrate on projecting a pleasant, relaxed, confident image. Smile and be personable throughout the interview — you may feel nervous or even scared…but don’t let it show.

Be conscious of your body language. Don’t fidget, don’t fold your arms, don’t wave your arms about, don’t lean back on your chair…it’s just like your mother always told you!

Name drop. Address your interviewer by name frequently during the interview. People love the sound of their own name.

Listen intently. Give the interviewer your full attention when he or she is speaking. This will help you answer their questions appropriately and show that you are interested in the role and have a good grasp of common courtesy and professional behavior.

Be a STAR. Formulate your responses using the STAR technique when responding to questions. Most interviewers use a competency-based interview technique. Many believe your past behavior will predict your future behavior, so they ask questions to help them to understand what your past behaviors have been.

STAR means:

  • S - Situation
  • T - Task
  • A - Action
  • R - Result

Always try to respond the following way: “The situation or task was…, the action I took was…and the result was…”. Don’t answer questions with words such as: “I would do this…in that situation”. Interviewers want specific examples of situations you have been involved in, not hypothetical answers.

Be positive. Use positive, lively language. Act as though you already have the role — use phrases such as, “When I am in the role”, “When I start the job” and “When I begin working with you”.

Take notes. Let the interviewer know that you will be writing down points as you discuss the role. This will help you to remember details after you leave, it gives you something to do that stops your hands from fidgeting, and it can help to settle the nerves a little too. But, make sure you use a good pen; don’t use a cheap pen for your job interviews. If you can’t afford a nice one, borrow one. It is important to give a good impression and these small details can make an impact.

Know the content of your resume well. The interviewer is likely to refer to something you’ve written in your resume — make sure you know it intimately and can answer questions about all your past roles, responsibilities and achievements. Also, know the timeline of your employment history well; it’ll sound like you’re trying to cover something up if you stumble over your own career chronology. Take additional copies of your resume with you — one for yourself and another for your interviewer should they need it. White paper, black ink, and a staple in the left-hand corner is the ideal format for most roles — leave the plastic folders and fussy presentation out.

Ask questions. Ideally an interview is an exchange — you are getting to know the people and the organization you might be working with as much as they are getting to know you. Make the interview interactive by asking your own questions in response to theirs and, at the end of the interview, ask any questions that have not yet been addressed. Always have questions ready to ask; you won’t convince anyone that you really want to work for their organization if you don’t want to know all about it. These are good questions to have on hand:

  • When will I be notified if I am successful for the job?
  • When will I start this new job?
  • How many people would I be working with?
  • What floor would I be located on?
  • What is the dress standard here?

Send a note. Take a few minutes to write a handwritten thank you note to your interviewer and send it the same day. This will probably arrive quite unexpectedly and help to seal your interviewer’s good impression of you and help you to stand out from the other candidates.