On "Yet Another Amateur Summary"

The “amateur” part isn’t an entirely false modesty. I am indeed often summarizing works in areas where I have limited experience and I’m certainly not paid for it. As such, despite my best efforts, I will assuredly sometimes mangle the subject matter. Once we both acknowledge this, we’re left with the question: Why bother to read or write these summaries?

For you

I can think of a few reasons you might like to read these summaries despite those limitations:

Curse of expertise

Experts may1 be worse at explaining material than intermediate practitioners due to heuristics like anchoring and availability (Hinds 1999). Anecdotally, it seems like professors who know the material too well to explain it are a common experience. As someone who has just learned the material I’m summarizing, I may be well-positioned to explain it.


As the perennial popularity of summarizers attests, there’s an audience for condensed versions of books. Existing summarizers seem to target self-help and management books though. I, on the other hand, expect to target a more niche and academic set of books. I’ll somewhat cheekily summarize that as: If it’s ever been on a best-seller list, don’t expect to see it here.


Another reason you might prefer these summaries to the originals is their inimitable, insouciant style. In all seriousness, academic writing is a genre with conventions that aren’t optimal for all purposes. While the writing here might sometimes seem a pitiable mockery of academic style, the academese here is an accident rather than a necessity. I’m very open to better conventions and will try to adopt them as I come upon them.


I sometimes create novel, interactive content to explain material. The feedback that interactivity can provide is pretty handy for learning (Hattie and Timperley 2007).


I strive to be a generalist. That means I may make connections to areas the source material doesn’t. If you and I happen to share more reference points than you and the original author do, we may communicate better.

For me

But I’ll not pretend to be entirely unselfish here. A large part of my motivation for these summaries is to improve my own understanding. That is, I hope to use these summaries as an opportunity to construct schema and use the imagination effect (Sweller 2008) to combat the illusion of explanatory depth (Rozenblit and Keil 2002).

Hattie, John, and Helen Timperley. 2007. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research 77 (1). Sage Publications Sage CA: Thousand Oaks, CA: 81–112. http://area.fc.ul.pt/en/artigos%20publicados%20internacionais/The%20Power%20of%20Feedback_Hattie_Timperley2007_77_1_81_112.pdf.

Hinds, Pamela J. 1999. “The Curse of Expertise: The Effects of Expertise and Debiasing Methods on Prediction of Novice Performance.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 5 (2). American Psychological Association: 205. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Rozenblit, Leonid, and Frank Keil. 2002. “The Misunderstood Limits of Folk Science: An Illusion of Explanatory Depth.” Cognitive Science 26 (5). Wiley Online Library: 521–62. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1207/s15516709cog2605_1.

Sweller, John. 2008. “Human Cognitive Architecture.” Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates New York, 369–81. http://www.csuchico.edu/~nschwartz/Sweller_2008.pdf.

  1. If the replication crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we should take low N, unregistered, unreplicated studies like these more as proposals than conclusions.↩︎