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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 03-Jul-16


Sunday 03-July-16

Summarising and Criticising: Critical Skills You May Not Realize You Need

Here are two skills that my wife, a former English teacher taught her students as critical skills not just for passing exams but also as useful tools for life.

Summarising is the skill of distilling the essence from a piece of writing, extracting the key points, or 'sorting the wheat from the chaff'. In a world of increasing information and demand for value, yet where the useful points are hidden in reams of low-grade ramblings, the ability to summarise is much prized.

When I read any paper book or report, I mark key points with a pencil. These often appear at the start or end of paragraphs, or perhaps are summarized by the author in bullet points or a summary section. I can then read the book back very quickly at any time. This is one of the methods I use for researching articles on this website.

Criticising is evaluating what is written, deciding how good or useful the text is. A key method in criticising is comparing it with other established writings. If it differs from accepted wisdom, then this is a matter for concern. Another aspect of criticism is in testing the reasoning within the work, for example in establishing evidence and arguing logical cause and effect. In this way, a good argument can allow an author to differ from other writers , for example in pointing out where others are using weak evidence or where their reasoning is invalid. Criticism can add to summarising. It is also a key skill in changing minds.

In teaching English, my wife would welcome arguments such as whether Lady Macbeth was evil or not, but would require the student to back up their argument with evidence from the text. She would even test their critical resolve by asking if Macbeth himself was so weak as to be easily led, would he ever have become king at all. In this way, my wife's criticism of her students' criticisms led them to become even better at critical analysis.

Working to become better at summarising and criticising can make you better at all kinds of things. If your skills in these could be improved (and mine are still far from perfect) then taking time to study and practice these could pay dividends!

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