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Annotated Bibliography: Summarize

This guide will help you craft an annotated bibliography, either as part of an assignment or as an exercise to improve your thinking or clarify your research strategy.

Why is it important to summarize?


A summary helps the reader grasp the main points of a book, article or other resource. This is important because it orients the reader as to the central premise(s) of the resource in question. This orientation is critical for the reader's understanding of your annotation; he or she needs to know what the basic argument is — along with some examples of the evidence the author has used in service of that argument — before he or she can proceed to your own critical evaluation of how effective the author's argument is. Further, creating a summary is helpful for your own thinking because it asks you to interpret, and then communicate clearly, the central ideas of a piece. This exercise can then help you figure out how a piece is to be used in your own work.  

How do I summarize a resource?


First, let's review the summary part of our sample annotation:

Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod uses examples drawn from her own fieldwork among Bedouin communities in western Egypt to argue in favor of examining specific forms of resistance to enable the study of shifts in power relations, rather than adopting an abstract theory of power — a move that Abu-Lughod says can result in scholarly romanticization of groups that are said to be battling oppression.

To make her argument, the author provides several examples of forms of resistance that women in these Bedouin communities employ; these include minor defiance, resistance to marriage, sexually irreverent talk and gestures, and subversive oral lyric poetry. These forms of resistance, Abu-Lughod argues, demonstrate not only the specific ways that Bedouin women resist power but also the particular social pressures that constrain or discipline them. Further, the author shows how this kind of examination can also reveal changes in the ways in which power operates in these Bedouin communities — specifically, those changes wrought by the increasing prominence of social forces previously external to them. Abu-Lughod’s article is therefore not merely about interpreting power and resistance but also examining the intricacies of the ways in which various aspects of modernity — including capitalism, media, nation-states and transnational movements such as Islam — affect power relations and gender dynamics in these “traditional” communities. Abu-Lughod’s claim is that this method is better suited to the task of tracking such intricacies than methods employing abstract theories of resistance.

Reading through the summary above, we can see that it essentially contains three elements:

  • First, it provides an overall statement about the argument of the piece ("argue[s] in favor of examining specific forms of resistance to study shifts in power relations, rather than adopting an abstract theory of power"). What, in a nutshell, is the author trying to argue, prove or demonstrate?
  • Second, it discusses how the author makes her argument. In other words, what evidence does she use in making the argument, and how does she deploy that evidence? In the case of this article, this evidence includes the specific examples of resistance, and then the further evidence of changes to that resistance that have been catalyzed by "modern" phenomena. 
  • Third, the annotation restates the original argument/claim in a form that has now been enriched by a discussion of the specific evidence cited. 

And so when you're doing your annotations, these are the things to which you want to pay attention, and things you want to be asking as you read it. What is the argument? And what forms of evidence are being brought to bear in making this claim? Paying attention to these two basic questions will provide you with the main material for your summary — and guide you toward the final part of your annotation, the evaluation.