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.

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