Writing a summary: knowing how to rephrase and distinguish the essential

To summarize a text is to briefly report the content in one’s own words to show that one has understood it.

To succeed in a good summary, all the main ideas of the text must be taken up in an objective and neutral way, that is to say that you must not interpret or extrapolate.

What is a summary?

-In short: much shorter than the original text (watch out for length instructions), the summary contains only essential ideas, not details;

-complete and relevant: it contains all the important information of the whole text; to distinguish what is important from what is secondary (or accessory), we only retain the elements that answer the questions: who? When ? Where ? How? ‘Or’ What ? Why ? We must therefore eliminate the descriptions – or at least reduce them as much as possible – and remove all the dialogues. We then reformulate most of what has been said, without writing “X says that“.

-Neutral: without personal opinion, without originality, as for someone who discovers the text.

Method for making a summary

After having noted the important information, we write according to this plan:

-Presentation of the text: author, title, date, genre;

-Location of the text: where and when;

-To Summarize a story: who does what, why and how? We follow the order of the text, highlighting the stages.

-Read the text again to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Then read the summary, preferably aloud. We improve the style, carefully check the spelling and copy it clean.

Editorial guidelines

We write in a current or even sustained register, in the present (be careful not to be influenced by the text, often written in the past) and in the third person. Direct speech is transformed into indirect speech. We do not include exclamations or interjections.

We reformulate rare or specialized words. The details are not repeated, but the meaning is given. A trick is to read a passage then hide it with your hand and say aloud what you have just read.

We are concise (we say a lot in a few words) and we do not repeat ourselves. The periphrases are replaced by the precise word. To present the characters effectively, appositions can be used.

Writing a summary: knowing how to locate information/ideas

Among all the information contained in a text, it is important to start by identifying the most important ones.

-We first note the name of the author and the work, the genre, the date

Where to find the information?

-The elements can be given in full in the text. Note the citation and line number. Be careful, there are sometimes several;

-They can be found in the paratext

-It is sometimes necessary to note indirect clues (for example, if there are dead leaves, the scene probably takes place in autumn or winter; if there are coconut trees, we are probably in a tropical country…);

-Some information is not given!

-Read the text several times to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

What is assessed:

-Understanding the text: if necessary, use a dictionary or an encyclopedia;

-The selection of information: it is not enough to note information, it is also necessary to choose the most important. We keep all the essential information (left column), and we sort out the secondary information (right column): we keep only those that we consider interesting;

-The validity of the information: always justify yourself by citing the indices of the text in quotation marks and indicating the line;

-The organization of information: within each category, go from general to specific and from essential to less important.

By Azam Habib

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