Straight to the point: usage of summarising

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Getting straight to the point


Whilst studying for your degree/course you will be using your summarising skills in many occasions (e.g. assignments, exams, researching, gathering or presenting information). It is important to realise that summarising comes from practical needs and therefore, its use in educational context across disciplines is not the only time when it can be used.


In these activities you will reflect on what a "summary" is and identify its main features; identify reasons to summarise written texts; reflect on opportunities for summarising; learn and practice conventions, rules and tips on summarising; learn specific target language related to summarising; access practice websites in target language.

Activity 1: Defining a summary

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Read the example of a stage 4 writing task for students of Italian and then reflect on how to summarise: note main features by answering questions below.

" Hai trovato un articolo in un giornale e vuoi riferire dell'argomento ad un amico che vive attualmente all'estero scrivendogli una lettera in cui evidenzi i punti principali dell'articolo: fai un riassunto e riduci l'articolo a circa un terzo dell' originale. L'articolo originale è di 500 parole. Scrivi il riassunto a parole tue. Ricorda di citare l'autore,la sua tesi e il titolo dell'articolo" .

What should a summary focusing on?

Should you use the original words in the text?

How long should a summary be in relation to the original?

What other specific information should a summary include?

Activity 2: Why to summarise?

There are numerous reasons why summarising a written text can be useful, in an educational context as well as in everyday life or at work.

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Look at the suggestions below which include a range of selected reasons (non exhaustive) for summarising a piece of written text.Tick the ones you think are good reasons and put a cross for those you think are not good.

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To make a set of rough notes
To gain a better and concise understanding of a piece of writing
To copy and paste important info and leave out irrelevant ones
To memorise concepts and notions
To express your personal point of view
To highlight important concepts
To represent exactly the same concepts in a more sophisticated way
To break down concepts you have read
To write only enough to convey the gist of what you have read
To take succinct but complete notes

Activity 3: When to summarise?

Having looked at a definition of a summary and reasons why it could be used, you will now reflect on the opportunities you might have in education, as well as in life or at work, to use your summarising skills.

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In the grid below you will find some suggestions which include a range of selected scenarios (non exhaustive):choose an option from the right box and drag it to one of the boxes on the left to indicate whether that particular scenario belongs to work, education or life in general.

You should have noticed that summarising can be used in any area of your life and not only for written texts. At different stages in your life,various language skills will be involved when summarising, whether you are doing it in your native language or in a target language: summarising is a skill for life.

Activity 4: Conventions, rules and tips on summarising

As for any other skills, one can be trained to make good summaries.In this activity, you will identify general strategies to deal with written texts and do some practice using resources available from the internet.(Language specific weblinks are also provided for students of Italian)

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Here is a list of verbs which indicate actions to be taken when summarising: they are not in any particular order. Read them and choose an appropriate continuation from the drop down menu.

To make a good summary you need to:

1) Highlight/underline...

2) Look up ...

3) Ignore ...

4) Read quickly to ...

5) Re-read the whole text to ...

6) Identify ...

7) Gather and synthesize

8) Check ...

9) Write...

A step by step guide to summarising is provided here for you to print out documento word

Would you like to review the main points?

© Produced by Alessia Plutino, University of Southampton, 2010. Available to use under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licence. Image courtesy of Tomcat mtl (Flickr).

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