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Does Writing Summaries Improve Memory for Text?

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Abstract

In five experiments, we consistently found that items included in summaries were better remembered than items omitted from summaries. We did not, however, find evidence that summary writing was better than merely restudying the text. These patterns held with shorter and longer texts, when the text was present or absent during the summary writing, with both short answer and multiple choice criterion tests, with a brief delay prior to the final test or with a several day delay, and regardless of whether the summary was written immediately after reading the text or after a short time away from the text. We additionally found evidence that writing a summary sometimes helped participants estimate how much they learned from the text. However, it seems that students do not write effective summaries because they are quite poor at picking out the important points from the text.

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Acknowledgments

This research was conducted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and portions were previously presented at the 2011 Psychonomic Society Meeting. We thank dissertation committee members Robert Guttentag, Lili Sahakyan, Paul Silvia, and Dayna Touron for their guidance and feedback. For their assistance with data collection and scoring, were are thankful to Carmelina Almanzar, Vanessa Alvarado, Jessica Anderson, Brittany Briceno, Josh Butler, Beatrice Campbell, Courtney Canter, Ann Marie Elmayan, Jenna Haddock, Sarah Harner, Hannah Hendricks, Latasha Holden, Brittany Horton, Tiffany Lam, Joanne Lamb, Torcia Lee, La’Quanda McGeachy, Ashleigh Moore, Jacob Negley, Anna Parisi, Gepernard “Tania” Polidor, Wyatt Smith, Ashkan Tajeddini, Roxy Toledo, and Luz Toribio.

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Correspondence to Arie S. Spirgel or Peter F. Delaney.

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Spirgel, A.S., Delaney, P.F. Does Writing Summaries Improve Memory for Text?. Educ Psychol Rev 28, 171–196 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-014-9290-2

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