Academic Writing

Reporting - paraphrase, summary & synthesis

Summary

A summary is a shortened version of a text. It contains the main points in the text and is written in your own words. It is a mixture of reducing a long text to a short text and selecting relevant information. Summarising is useful when you are using the work of others to support your own view. See: Writing Functions 18: Supporting

A good summary shows that you have understood the text. Please remember, though, that even when you summarise someone's work, you must acknowledge it. See: Writing Citation Introduction

Look at this example:

Source

The amphibia, which is the animal class to which our frogs and toads belong, were the first animals to crawl from the sea and inhabit the earth.

Summary

The first animals to leave the sea and live on dry land were the amphibia.

The phrase "which is the animal class to which our frogs and toads belong" is an example, not a main point, and can be deleted. The rest of the text is rewritten in your own words.

Try this exercise.

The following stages may be useful:

  1. Read and understand the text carefully.
  2. Think about the purpose of the text.
    1. Ask what the author's purpose is in writing the text?
    2. What is your purpose in writing your summary?
    3. Are you summarising to support your points?
    4. Or are you summarising so you can criticise the work before you introduce your main points?
  3. Select the relevant information. This depends on your purpose.
  4. Find the main ideas - what is important.
    1. They may be found in topic sentences.
    2. Distinguish between main and subsidiary information.
    3. Delete most details and examples, unimportant information, anecdotes, examples, illustrations, data etc.
    4. Find alternative words/synonyms for these words/phrases - do not change specialised vocabulary and common words.
  5. Change the structure of the text.
    1. Identify the meaning relationships between the words/ideas - e.g. cause/effect, generalisation, contrast. Look at Writing Paragraphs Signalling for more information. Express these relationships in a different way.
    2. Change the grammar of the text: rearrange words and sentences. Change nouns to verbs, adjectives to adverbs, etc., break up long sentences, combine short sentences.
    3. Simplify the text. Reduce complex sentences to simple sentences, simple sentences to phrases, phrases to single words.
  6. Rewrite the main ideas in complete sentences. Combine your notes into a piece of continuous writing. Use conjunctions and adverbs such as 'therefore', 'however', 'although', 'since', to show the connections between the ideas.
  7. Check your work.
    1. Make sure your purpose is clear.
    2. Make sure the meaning is the same.
    3. Make sure the style is your own.
    4. Remember to acknowledge other people's work.

Examples:

  1. People whose professional activity lies in the field of politics are not, on the whole, conspicuous for their respect for factual accuracy.
    Politicians often lie.
  2. Failure to assimilate an adequate quantity of solid food over an extended period of time is absolutely certain to lead, in due course, to a fatal conclusion.
    Lack of food causes death.
  3. The climatic conditions prevailing in the British Isles show a pattern of alternating and unpredictable periods of dry and wet weather, accompanied by a similarly irregular cycle of temperature changes.
    British weather is changeable.
  4. It is undeniable that the large majority of non-native learners of English experience a number of problems in attempting to master the phonetic patterns of the language.
    Many learners find English pronunciation difficult.
  5. Tea, whether of the China or Indian variety, is well known to be high on the list of those beverages which are most frequently drunk by the inhabitants of the British Isles.
    The British drink a large amount of tea.
  6. It is not uncommon to encounter sentences which, though they contain a great number of words and are constructed in a highly complex way, none the less turn out on inspection to convey very little meaning of any kind.
    Some long and complicated sentences mean very little.
  7. One of the most noticeable phenomena in any big city, such as London or Paris, is the steadily increasing number of petrol-driven vehicles, some in private ownership, others belonging to the public transport system, which congest the roads and render rapid movement more difficult year by year.
    Big cities have growing traffic problems.

Example 1: Volcanic Islands - Writing: Note-Taking Summarising Example.

Exercise 1: Progress in Samoa - Writing: Note-Taking Summarising Example 2

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