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Summarization Processes

If you give students a summary or a good outline, they often study the summary or the outline instead of the original text. They may have good reason for doing so. Lynn Reder and John Anderson, cognitive psychologists, found that sometimes students who read a summary of a large passage understand more and remember it better than students who read the text itself (Horn, 1982).

Why might a student gain more from reading a summary (in some cases) rather than an original work?

The summarization process is essential to reading. There is no way a person can memorize every single word of a chapter or book. People must summarize as they read. If you study a good summary, your mental summary is more likely to resemble the writer's. Sometimes that results in more accurate, better organized knowledge than coming up with your own summary.

Why are summaries and review important?

Summarization processes are crucial for gathering and organizing knowledge. A summary is based on value judgments that are informative. When you read a summary or review, you learn what somebody considered important. By implication, you also learn what the person thought could be left out, because only small portions of a work can be mentioned in a review.

A review is basically a summary. It surveys and evaluates a lengthy work or collection of works. Reviewing and summarizing is so commonplace in science that Stebbins (1974) found himself reviewing a book he described as "essentially a review of reviews." A textbook chapter, also, is a form of review. So, for what it is worth, when you review this chapter, you a reviewing (studying) a review (chapter) which includes a review (brief mention) of a review (by Stebbins) of a review of reviews. This shows how common and important summarization processes can be.

Reviews of research in psychology are found in several journals such as American Psychologist, Psychological Science, Psychological Review, Psychological Bulletin and Annual Reviews of Psychology. They reach a wide audience and are among the most influential psychology journals.

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