Summarizing and Reflecting on a Text

Once you have finished reading and annotating the text—and responding to it either in your annotations or in a separate writing—it’s a good idea to put that text into the context of the course and your learning. Doing work like this helps cement the ideas in our memory.


When you take the time to summarize, you are gathering up what you know about the author’s main point and putting it into words. Elsewhere in this textbook, I have more guidance for writing summaries, but even if you aren’t being asked to write a formal summary, taking the time to answer key questions about the text will help you use the text more effectively later.

Read back through your annotations and notes, and jot down answers to questions like the following:

  • What is the author’s main point?
  • What are the supporting points that lead to that main point?
  • What evidence does the author provide to support those points?
  • What examples does the author use, and how well do those examples explain and clarify the point?
Topic vs. Main Point
Be sure that you answer the first of these questions with something other than a topic. For example, I could say that Mitchell’s text is about the choices we have regarding racism. While this statement is true, it doesn’t tell me much about Mitchell’s main point, only his topic.
Example: Summarizing Mitchell

I’m not going to write a full-blown summary here so that you have the opportunity to write your own if your instructor has decided to assign this. However, here are my answers to the questions:

  • Main point: Mitchell argues that we need to choose between “segregated coexistence,” where people of different races and ethnicities live in enclaves but mostly stay separated from one another, and “living in community,” which he calls integration. He favors the latter.
  • Supporting points: Mitchell explains that we have been living in segregated coexistence for a long time and argues that this status feeds inequity and racism in our society. He claims that living in community is difficult to achieve and that we can only do this if we decide that we don’t want to live in conflict any more.
  • Two examples of evidence:
    • He uses statistical demographic data from the Othering and Belonging Institute to support his claim that we currently live in enclaves.
    • He uses Eric Yamamoto’s description of the process of interracial justice that leans to racial reconciliation. Eric Yamamoto is a professor of law and social justice at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. He’s internationally known as an expert on racial justice.
  • Two examples of examples:
    • He gives Detroit and Baton Rouge as examples of cities that appear to be demographically diverse but that are really made up of enclaves.
    • He gives the example of “equitable funding for schools” as something that the government must do if we are going to be able to live in community.
Activity: Your Summarizing Work

Again, using the article you have chosen to work with, answer the questions that are listed earlier to help you summarize the main point and understand how the supporting points, evidence, and examples work in that article.

Reflect on Your Purpose

In your notes from when you were focusing your reading, you should have information about why you were assigned this text in the first place. Take a moment and review those notes. Then think about how this text can be used in light of that focus.

You might find it helpful to jot down answers to questions like the following:

  • Given what I know now, why was I asked to read this text?
  • What parts of the text will be most useful for the purposes I’ve identified? Make sure to note specific passages where appropriate.
  • How does this text fit in with other texts that we’re reading in this course or that I’m reading for this assignment?
Example: Reflecting on the Purpose for Reading Mitchell

When I go back to the assignment, I see that I am being asked to think about Mitchell’s terms and apply those to one of the readings from the list in the assignment. The assignment lists three terms, so I need to make sure I understand the following:

  • “Segregated coexistence”
  • “Living in community”
  • “Quality of diversity”

If I’m going to use this text successfully, I must make sure I understand what Mitchell means by these terms—not just what I think they mean. In my annotations, I have already marked some passages that deal with these terms, but it would be helpful for me to write my own paraphrases of them.

As for why I was asked to write about Mitchell, this assignment is a kind of analysis in which the professor wants me not only to understand terminology from a text, but also to apply those terms in a context where they are not necessarily used.

Some of my reflection will depend on what else has been going on in the class. Here are some examples:

  • If we’ve covered quotations and paraphrases, then the professor is probably expecting me to use those well.
  • If we’ve covered paragraph development, then the professor is probably expecting me to make sure I am using enough evidence and enough explanation to make my point clear.
  • If we’ve covered thesis statements, then the professor is probably expecting me to develop a clear thesis that makes an arguable claim and that provides the reader with some idea of the reasoning behind that claim.

One way to reflect on what I should be focusing on would be to review the syllabus and my notes up to that point.

Notice that this part of my reflection isn’t about Mitchell’s text. This is a writing class after all, so a good part of the purpose of the assignment would be to practice skills relevant to writing in college.

Activity: Reflecting on Your Purpose

Again, using the article you have chosen to work with, answer the questions that are listed earlier to help you link the article to the purpose you were given for reading the article. Focus not only on the assignment, but also look over the syllabus to think about what you have been working on in class.

Reflect on Your Learning

Many of the texts we read hold meaning for us in ways we don’t expect and that aren’t necessarily related to our coursework and projects.

Explore this possibility through questions such as the following:

  • What did you learn from this text or from the experience of reading this text?
  • What surprised you about this text?
  • What would you like to learn more about?
Example: Learning from Reading Mitchell

Reading Mitchell’s article taught me a number of things:

I hadn’t really thought about diversity in something other than demographic terms before. The possibility of “living in community” is intriguing to me, and I am thinking about what I can do to foster that kind of integration in my teaching, in the university, and in my work in the community. For example, as I am writing this textbook, I am thinking about assignments and activities that would help all of my students feel represented in what they read here. Specifically, I am considering having students add images and examples to this text that speak to them.

I already knew that I was pragmatic, but Mitchell helped me solidify my desire to understand concrete changes and actions that I can take. My resentment at the vagueness of how we get to “living in community” makes me want to talk to people who do this kind of work to get better ideas. I would like to learn more about how I can support this kind of change.

Activity: Reflecting on Your Learning

Using the article you have chosen to work with, answer the questions that are listed earlier to help you think about what you have learned both from the content of the article and your experience reading the text.

Key Points: Summarizing and Reflecting on a Text

  • To make sure that you understand what you are reading, be sure to summarize the text, focusing on the main point, but also including some of the details.
  • Go back to the notes you have on the purpose for reading the text to make sure that you are able to address that purpose as fully as possible.
  • Take a moment to reflect on your learning, including your experiences with the text. This can help you generate ideas and remember the text better when you need to.

Text Attribution

This chapter contains material taken from the chapter “Reflect” from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear and is used under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.



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Reading and Writing Successfully in College: A Guide for Students Copyright © 2023 by Patricia Lynne is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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