Summarizing Information

Summary writing is an important skill for a user of English. Typically, a summary provides the gist of a larger piece of writing, giving only the main points. It is not only for pieces of written work that summaries are made. Films, plays, long articles, stories and presentations are all summarized often. Being able to summarize a piece of work is an excellent way to know if a person really understands it or not.

A good summary has the following characteristics.

  • Own words are used to write the summary
  • The text is significantly condensed.
  • All the main points of the text are included in the summary. In other words, the summary should be comprehensive.
  • Summary is much shorter than the original work (usually no more than 15% of the length of the original work)
  • Summary is devoid of redundant words, details and examples.
  • Personal opinions and comments are avoided.
  • A good summary is coherent. This means that it must make sense as an independent piece of writing. It should not read like a disjointed collection of points.
  • Quotations are avoided.

In most summaries, linking words should be used for coherence. Common linking words used in summaries are conjunctions such as and, but, for, or, nor, also, either...or, neither...nor and conjunctive adverbs such as moreover, furthermore, nevertheless, however, thus, consequently etc.

Steps in writing a summary:

Effective summaries can be written following the steps given below.

1. Read the text thoroughly

This cannot be emphasized enough. The text has to read several times to make sure that you have understood the author’s message clearly. The purpose of the text and the main arguments should be clearly identified. You can underline the main points at this stage.

2. Take notes

Writing down the main points of the text is the next step. You should beware of the same idea being repeated, or unnecessary details or examples. You can be very brief at this point. However, take care not to lose the main idea when you write bullet points. Usually quotations are not used in a summary. If there are quotations in the main text, you have to extract the main idea from it, if at all they contain the main ideas.

3. Flesh it out

You should have the skeleton of your summary by now. The next task is to flesh it out. Do not worry about using your own words at this point. You can use linking words or conjunctions at this point to ensure coherence. You should take care to use linking words only where it is appropriate to use them. Merely inserting linking words in every sentence makes for a very badly written summary.

4. Use your own words

A good summary uses different words than the original text where it is necessary to use them. Often one good word can replace a couple of words. For example, ‘in a kind manner’ can be replaced with ‘kindly’. Sometimes more apt words can be used wherever possible. For example, the sentence ‘The food was very nice’ can be rewritten as ‘The food was delicious’. Note that you are free to change the sentence structure too.

4. Prepare your draft

Rewrite the summary using the words you have in mind that can replace the original words. Do not worry about grammatical or spelling mistakes and mistakes in collocation at this point.

5. Edit your draft

Read your draft aloud and check if it sounds right. Proofreading and editing your draft is absolutely essential. Correct mistakes in grammar, syntax and collocation. It is useful to let another person take a look at your corrections. You should also look for any repetitions of words or ideas, unrelated information or details that are not relevant.

6. Write your summary

Now you are ready to write the final summary. The word limit should be kept in mind when you write the final summary. Even at this point, you may be able to cut some words out if the summary exceeds the word limit specified.

Final words

With many students using technological devices for their studies, writing summaries using pen and paper may soon become a thing of the past. If you are using Microsoft Word to write your summary, you get a lot of help in proofreading and correcting grammatical errors from the system itself. Still, the student has to be knowledgeable enough in English to know what changes need to be made and what need not.

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