Summary Writing: Writing the Summary

Summary Writing

In the previous two posts on summary writing, we have examined the how to analyse a summary question, how to find the points from the relevant paragraphs and organise them. The next step is to change the points into your own words and to remove words so that it is 80 words or less. Let us see how it can be done.

I. Summary Writing: Using Own Words

Before you start to write your draft, you will also need to underline all the keywords of each point. It is usually between four to six words but do not be side-tracked if you can only find three or less words as it varies from point to point. To score high marks, you need to change these words, yet keep the meaning exactly the same. You are underlining these words so as to ensure that whatever you change,  the content is the same, and you are still using your own words. 

Without further delay, let’s look at the strategies to draft your own words. You can just write these words just above the sentence or phrase to save time and energy.

a. Delete

This tip is mostly used for reducing the number of words. To reduce the number of words, you can:

  1. Delete Repeated Words.

Example: He is a clever, kind and intelligent boy. (8 words)

Rewritten: He is a kind and intelligent boy. (7 words)
(Delete either ‘clever’, or ‘intelligent’ – they mean the same thing.)

  1. Delete words that explain the obvious or provide excessive detail

Example: Imagine a mental picture of someone engaged in the intellectual activity of trying to learn what the rules are for how to play the game of mahjong. (27 words)

Rewritten: Imagine someone trying to learn the rules of mahjong. (9 words)

  1. Delete unnecessary modifiers and determiners

Example: Any particular type of salad is fine with me. (9 words)

Rewritten: Any salad is fine with me. (6 words)

b. Substitute

Substitution is the most basic strategy for use your own words. It also happens to be the key strategy for the comprehension question that asks for “use your own words”. When students are beginners in summary, this is the best method to use. Basically, you change the keywords by using synonyms or phrases that have a similar meaning. Do note that this strategy focuses on using own words rather than cutting down words, so be careful when you substitute that you do not end up adding so many words that it exceeds the word limit.

Example: His comments were often rude, offensive and hurtful.

Rewritten: His comments were often insulting and hurtful.

Example: The wan polar sun supplies little heat.

Rewritten: The weak polar sun provides little warmth.

c. Shorten

Yet another common strategy is to shorten longer phrases into a single word or shorter phrase. Always ensure that the meaning of the phrase is still captured. This helps to shorten the number of words as well as using your own words.

Example: Someone who is leading others needs to know his men. (10 words)

Rewritten: A leader needs to know his men. (7 words)

Example: The pen, pencil, eraser and writing pad are on the table. (11 words)

Rewritten: The stationery is on the table. (6 words)

d. Combine

Combining is actually a skill learnt since Primary school. It is also known as synthesis. Basically, you combine two or even more sentences into one sentence using connectors or conjunctions. The end result is usually a shorter sentence. If you combine some of the other strategies listed before, this becomes a powerful tool.

Example: The typhoon forced more than a thousand people to escape from villages in the mountains. It poured over one meter of heavy rain on mountainous areas. (26 words)

Rewritten: The typhoon forced more than a thousand people to escape from the mountainous villages due to the heavy downpour. (19 words)

Example: The human brain makes up 2 percent of a person’s weight. It consumes around 20 to 30 percent of energy. (20 words)

Rewritten: While the brain is 2 percent of a person’s weight, it consumes around 25 percent of energy. (17 words)


Rephrasing means changing word forms or even the structure of the sentence. This is a good way of ensuring the content of the point remains basically the same while making it seem like using your own words. The change of word form is especially useful when one cannot figure out a similar word, yet does not want to copy the same word. However, it seldom shortens the number of words so you should not use it exclusively.

  1. Rephrase by changing word form.

Example: Marina is confident of winning the tournament.

Rewritten: Marina has confidence in winning the tournament.

  1. Rephrase by changing sentence structure

Example: The ball kicked by James hit Shawn’s face forcefully.  

Rewritten: James kicked the ball forcefully into Shaw’s face. 

VI. Summary Writing: Completing the Summary

You are almost ready to write down the actual summary after you have substituted the words — there are only a few more steps to do.

a. Ensure word count there are only 80 words or less

Count the words in your draft. If there are more than 80 words, go through it again and cut down further using the strategies above. You should do so until there are 80 words or less.

b. Add conjunctions

Next, look at all the points and check if you can still add conjunctions to join the points together. If they are complementary points, do consider using ‘and’ to join them. You can also use ‘but’ or ‘however’ to join sentences that oppose each other.

c. Check for grammar

Finally, read through the summary one more time to check for grammar errors. Once you are confident that there are no more errors, copy the draft into your answer booklet or foolscap paper.

You are done with your summary! Hopefully, this guides helps your with your summary skills. To go back to the the first part, you can click here.

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.



Summary Writing: Understanding and Analysing

Summary Writing

Summary Writing has always been a bugbear for many students — either they cannot find the points or are unable to express the ideas in their own words. In the next few posts, we are going to explain how to ace the summary question in secondary school.

I. Summary Writing: Understanding ‘O’ level marking rubrics

For summary writing, there is a total of 15 marks. Eight marks are assigned for content and the other seven marks are assigned for language use.

Content marks are gained by identifying relevant points. To score full marks (eight marks), you need to identify eight points as one point represents one mark. However, it is possible that there can be up to 10 points in the marking scheme. If you think about it, the more points there are, the easier the summary is, then you can still leave out one or two points and still score eight marks. To ensure that you score eight marks, it is also important to ensure that the full meaning of the point is expressed. Thus, you need to be careful not to include irrelevant information. 

The language use section is a test of language. The criteria is found in the table below. To score well for language use, it is important to use your own words and write a piece of summary that is error-free (spelling, grammar, etc). 

  • There is a sustained and successful attempt to re-phrase the text language.
  • The summary is free from lifting except for phrases from the text which are difficult to substitute.
  • Apart from occasional slips, the language is accurate.

Please take note that there is a maximum of 80 words. Please do not write over the word limit as teachers will count each summary.

II. Summary Writing: Analysing the Question

While many summary questions have only one part to the question, some of them have a few parts. Thus, once you have read the question, you should note the number of parts required by the question and also identify which paragraphs contain the information.

For example:

“Summarise the symptoms of measles and how to treat it. Use only information from paragraphs 1 to 3.”

This summary is asking for two parts – symptoms and treatment of measles. You also need to look for the information from paragraphs 1 to 3 only. We encourage our students to indicate the paragraphs by drawing lines or putting big brackets and you should too. This helps the student to clearly mark out the relevant paragraphs for the summary. Identify the first part as ‘A’ and the second part as ‘B’. 

At the same time, you should analyse the question to understand what is required by underlining key words. In the example above, you should have underlined ‘symptoms’, ‘how’ and ‘treat’. In other words, when you read paragraphs 1 to 3, you should look out for symptoms and treatments only. Other information is to be ignored. Other than key words that identify the topic, you should also take note of question words like “why” (reasons) and “how” (a procedure or a method). 

For example:

Summarise how the culinary achievements of Asian cities have been recognised and what is the impact of this.

When you look for information in the relevant paragraphs, you should concentrate on the ways chefs and restaurants have been recognised (part A) AND the outcome of this recognition (part B).

Now that you understand the requirements of the summary question and how to analyse the question, let us go through some strategies on how to find the correct points. You can find the next post here.