Purposeful Summary

Not Quote, Not Paraphrase

For a 3000-word paper with a healthy blend of original scholarship and relevant citation, you may:

  • consult 50 sources,
  • save links to just 30 of those,
  • actively pursue 25 of those,
  • produce annotated bibliographic entries for 20 of those,
  • and directly quote 7.

Too much quotation leaves little room for your own original language and discourages readers from considering your position. Too much quotation also subjects you to the not-always-persuasive rhetorical style of the original authors.

For the dozen or so sources you cite but don’t directly quote, the perfect blend of original material and your own good reasoning is the Purposeful Summary.

Good for What it Leaves Out

“Purposeful summary” reduces sources to their smallest useful content.

  • It eliminates most of the original language.
  • It can eliminate the author’s argument.
  • It can eliminate the author’s logic, rhetoric, ethical justifications, conclusions.
  • It can eliminate the oppositional stance or attitude of the original.
  • It can remove the material from its context.

Better for What it Adds

Removed from its context, the evidence in a source can be used to advance your own thesis. Your Purposeful Summary makes claims and draws reasonable conclusions based on the evidence from the material, whether or not those conclusions coincide with the original author’s argument.

Retaining Integrity

It does, however, keep faith with the original author. It may remove the material from its context, but it can’t misrepresent the author’s position. The author may have squandered or misinterpreted the evidence, which our new Summary remedies, but we either share a fair report of that failure, or we suppress the author’s point of view altogether.

A propaganda film might depict the mistreatment of animals in a factory henhouse, for example, and draw the conclusion that no one can humanely eat chickens. But a Purposeful Summary is not obligated to draw the same conclusion, and might instead take issue with the methodology of the film’s construction or the generalizations it draws from scant evidence, or it could cite the maltreatment to advocate for a more humane approach to farming. The only thing it cannot do is mislead readers about the original author’s position or intent.

1) Ethics of a Three-Parent Baby

It seems counterintuitive that human life, which everyone knows gets DNA from two parents when male sperm fertilizes a female egg, could ever require, or even make use of, the DNA of three parents. But that’s exactly what is happening.

The UK will soon allow in vitro fertilization of female eggs that include contributions from a second woman’s healthy egg to replace defective mitochondrial DNA in the first woman’s egg. While the amount of DNA is small, it nonetheless permanently alters the DNA of all female children born to the (well we can’t say couple any more!) three parents.

The contribution of healthy mitochondrial DNA to the fertilized egg will prevent birth defects that could result in seizures and decreased muscle formation in the absence of the healthy DNA. As usual, critics worry that this first tiny advance in promoting healthy babies will open the floodgates to every sort of god-playing, frankenstein-creating unscrupulous experimentation imaginable.

Others fret that only the rich will be able to afford healthy babies. In all likelihood, both these scenarios will play out just as they fear.

2) Africa Should Screen Americans for Measles

It seems counterintuitive but is possibly true that Africans have more to fear from American visitors than we have to fear from them. Nigerian writer and lawyer Elnathan John earned 35,000 retweets or favorites by tweeting that he was concerned for “measles-ravaged” America and hoped Africa was screening American visitors.

His comment was a sly rejoinder to the demand heard often in the media during the Ebola scare that all Africans should be screened for disease before visiting America. While Ebola is certainly scary, measles is nine times as contagious, and while it isn’t usually fatal, it killed 430 children a day in 2011 worldwide.

Also counterintuitive are the rules for immunizations in the United States. All US immigrants are required to prove they’ve received the full protocol of immunizations, including one for measles. But many American jurisdictions permit US citizens to opt out of vaccinations, including the measles vaccine, on religious or philosophical grounds.

When tens of thousands of Central American children crossed the US border from Mexico last year, they were all forcibly immunized against measles, even though their countries of origin have higher immunization rates than the US (El Salvador, 94 %; Guatemala, 93%; United States, 91%).

Nevertheless, we remain as a country more irrationally afraid of “disease-carrying” immigrants and visitors than we do of our own “anti-vaxxer” citizens who could be immunized if they chose to but choose not to.

[Bonus Source: Here’s how Slate.com reports on the recent US measles outbreak, as part of a series of posts in which American events are described using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.]

3) Is this Photo Ethical?

It seems counterintuitive that we send photographers into scenes of grave danger on the basis of our need to see, to fully understand, the catastrophes of natural phenomena or disastrous human choices, but then accuse them of sensationalizing their subjects when they deliver precisely what we have asked them to produce.

When the sudden earthquake of January, 2010, killed 230,000 Haitians, nature was not the only killer. Concrete structures built according to lax building codes (or built without oversight of any kind, or after bribing code officials) contributed thousands of deaths when they crashed down on their inhabitants. And when lawlessness and looting followed the quake, flawed humans killed one another; property owners, thieves, and police all clashed until even more blood was spilled over what few valuables remained.

Photographers rushed to Haiti in droves to record the chaos and devastation, perhaps to raise awareness, certainly to assist in the fundraising efforts for disaster relief, perhaps to win themselves some photography or journalism awards.

The images of 15-year-old Fabienne Cherisma, shot by police while crossing a rooftop with an armload of stolen framed pictures, appear to have been taken by a lone photographer who happened on the scene and shot them with frank detachment. They are shocking but perhaps have value in engaging our passions and our compassion.

But the “other” photo, the side view that reveals seven photographers all crouching to capture virtually the same shot of the fallen Fabienne (one of which was named the best International News Image at the Swedish Picture of the Year Award) shocks everyone who sees it for an entirely different reason: it makes them look like vultures waiting to feed off her corpse.

Consider what we demand of the people we send to do this job. We insist they share us truthful images we can trust to tell the real story of human triumphs and tragedies. But we also want them to disappear, to not be part of the story, to keep their hands out of the situation so that we can believe it. And when they do what we ask, we condemn them for their inhumanity, for their very “professionalism” in the face of suffering.

Journalists Gather

Photographers gather around Fabienne

2 Responses to Purposeful Summary

  1. walmaarts says:

    When reviewing articles the author should focus on the material that pertains to the topic at hand. The reader shouldn’t have to know any background about the topic.
    The goal is to persuade the reader.
    Summarize with a purpose
    consult 50 sources,
    save links to just 30 of those,
    actively pursue 25 of those,
    produce annotated bibliographic entries for 20 of those,
    and directly quote 7.
    Quotations shouldn’t take up the whole page. Your own writing should fill most of the page.
    Sources should be used but only when It does the author well.
    Evidence is the main thing. The side that the author of the source is taking doesn’t matter.
    The context of the source can be taken “out of context” in a fairway.
    Fairness is important. The author must “keep the faith” with the original author. Must be fair with the author.
    Start your thesis with “It seems counterintuitive that”

    Is this Photo Ethical?

    It’s Counterintuitive that reporters get paid to “take advantage” of war or bad situation
    The United States media sources along with other countries media sources want to get “closer” to the war and see what is actually happening
    The reporter can then go on to win awards based off a picture of someone that is suffering
    The reporter then feels guilt and commits suicide when that’s what he gets paid to do what the reporter did
    Is it ethical that the reporter took the picture or that it is his job to take these pictures

    • davidbdale says:

      These are good Notes, Walmaarts. I haven’t noticed whether you posted Notes also to today’s Agenda, but I’ll credit you with these even if there’s nothing on the Agenda page.

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