Summary Writing: Finding and Organising

In the previous post, we have discussed the requirements for the summary question and how to analyse a question. Now that you have analysed the summary question, the next step is to look for the relevant points. Let us see how it can be done.


I. Summary Writing: Finding Points

When you start looking at the relevant paragraphs, it is important that you keep the question in mind all the time. Let’s look at a simple strategy to help identifying a point and mark it down. 

First, look through each sentence and analyse if the sentence or part of the sentence answers the summary question. Remember that the student should have already analysed the question.

Once the first sentence (or phrase if the rest of the sentence is irrelevant) is found, underline or highlight it and label it with ‘1’. If this is a two-part question, then the student can label it ‘1A’ if it answers the first part or ‘1B’ if it answers the second part.

Continue with each sentence, carefully labeling each point you find in an ascending order. You need to look for 8-10 points. If there are less than eight points, you need to comb through the paragraphs again and if you have more than 10 points, what should you do? We will discuss 3 common errors so that students like you will know how to narrow down your choices.

a. Irrelevant Points

The first common error to eliminate is to cut away Irrelevant Points. It is a common mistake, especially when you are just a beginner at summary, to select points that are irrelevant to the question. So always look at each selected point again and check if it answers the summary question.

Let’s look at this summary question for example, “Summarise the ways tiger reserves benefit from tiger tourism.”

You have selected the following two phrases: “India arguably leads the way in its management of tiger reserves…” and “Fitting tiger-watching vehicles with GPS units and cameras could help enforcement of the rules…”

Both seem to say that tiger reserves have benefited from tiger tourism. If you analyse the two sentences deeper, you will realise that while the first sentence seems to hint that tiger reserves are better under the management of India, the way tiger reserves benefit is not clear. The second phrase also seems to hint that it is a benefit because rules are enforced, but it is unclear in what way the tiger reserves have benefited. Hence, both phrases should be struck off your list.

b. Repeated Points

The second strategy for narrowing down the points is to delete Repeated Points. Many writers actually repeat their points throughout their essay. They do this to emphasise the messages they want to convey. However, this might lead students to select the same point again. Thus, it is important to recognise if the same point had been stated previously.

Let’s use the summary question in the previous tip as an example. You have selected the following phrase as one of your points, “Revenues there fund anti-poaching patrols”. Somewhere further down the paragraph, the writer points out that “Revenues pay for villagers to patrol the tiger breeding areas.” Can you see that this is basically the same point, repeated twice?

To avoid this, look through all the points you have selected to check if there are repeated ideas. If there are, look through these repeated ideas and strike off the weaker one.

c. Examples

The final common error is to include Examples, thus deleting error is the final strategy. Examples are generally something that are never included in summaries. Many teachers actually do warn against adding examples, but many students still do.

How will you figure out if the point is an example? Actually, it is rather simple. Many examples are labelled “for example”, “for instance” or “as an illustration”. The important point is to understand the paragraph and if the phrase gives an example of the main idea instead of explaining it further, it is probably an example.

There is one caveat – if the question asks for you to list down examples in the summary question, then please follow that instruction. Otherwise, ignore all examples. Did you notice that when you combine the first letter of these strategies, it spells is ‘ire’? (Yes, please do this to avoid the ire of the marker!)

II. Summary Writing: Organisation

Now that you have between 8-10 points, you need to draft your final answer. Notice that I used the word ‘draft’. You need to create a draft because you need to reduce the total number of words to 80 as the words in the points you have chosen tend to add up to more than 100 words. In addition, you need to use your own words to score well for the language section.

Many students we teach completely skip writing a draft, write down all the points and submit the paper. By doing this, your summary will look untidy and difficult to mark for the marker as you cancel or add words. Students have been known to strike out their own answer and recopying their work on a new sheet of paper because they themselves get bothered by their own messy work! Do yourself a favour, write a draft and save all the trouble.

Before you start your draft, do take a look to see if your points need to be re-organised; this is especially important for multi-part summaries. If you find that all the points relating to part A are clumped together, and likewise for part B, then you can start writing your draft. However, sometimes you find that some points for Part A are scattered among the points for part B. This means that you have to make an attempt to regroup them when you start to draft.

Now that you have learnt how to retrieve the points and organise them, let us move to the next post to understand how to change these points in your words. The post can be found here.