The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (8th edition) defines a summary as a short statement that gives only the main points of something. A summary is the condensed presentation of the substance of a body or material, leaving out the examples, illustrations, repetitions, etc. Also, a summary can be described as a shortened form of a long passage after removing all irrelevant points from the main points and giving a short account using your own preferred words. In summary, you go ‘straight to the point’.
IMPORTANT POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN WRITING A SUMMARY
(1). PROPER COVERAGE OF PASSAGE:
Before summary, a student must read and understand every aspect of the passage in order to properly use sentences to summarize.
(2). WRITE BRIEFLY AND CONCISELY:
In summary, you are expected to write briefly and concisely. Do not use flamboyant or big words that does not stem out of the main points in the passage. Also, write grammatically correct sentences and not phrases.
A student is expected to write his/her answers clearly and not beat about the bush.
In summarizing a passage, you are expected to restrict your sentences and summary to what is written in the passage. However important a point or information is, if it is not in the passage, do not put it in the summary.
WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN SUMMARIZING A PASSAGE
(5). Never you write in phrases.
In as much as you are expected to write briefly and concisely, the sentences in your summary should be grammatically correct.
(6). Do not write more than the required number of sentences or words in your summary.
If the question says, “Summarize using five sentences”, use only five sentences.
(7). Do not write verbatim what is in the passage.
As much as you can, summarize using your own words.
(8). Do not put in your summary an information or point that is not in the passage.
Restrict your summary to what is obtainable from the given passage.
(9). If you are asked to summarize using sentences, do not write two points in one sentence.
For each point you want to make, start a new sentence.
TYPICAL EXAMPLE OF A SUMMARY
It is 20 years since I came to England. In 1980 I returned to Nigeria to take up a job at the University of Calabar. But by the summer of 1981 I was back in London, glad to be reunited with my five children, who I had missed greatly, and relieved, through my chagrin, to be away from Nigeria.
The year in Calabar had not worked out. I felt an overriding sense of frustration at the inefficiency of services caused by grinding bureaucracy, and at the apparent callousness with which inequality and poverty seemed to be viewed by the privileged.
The materialism and quest for power had also disheartened me. I was asked whether the university had been freer of the social climbing of middle-class Nigerian society, or whether an independence of spirit at least co-existed with ambition. My answer was, and is definitely, ‘No’: “Everyone is, above all, concerned with their career and prestige. After all, they insisted on making me a professor maybe for reflecting their glory! I am not an academic. I had applied for a writer-in-residence post but that didn’t satisfy them. It was a nuisance for me to mark papers and prepare seminars. I could not get on with my writings.”
Since my return to Britain, I have been making up a vengeance for lost time. I have just received the book cover of Our Freedom, a collection of photographs of women in West Africa, for which I have written captions. This is to be published shortly, and no fewer than four short novels and plays are ready to go to the printing press, in the next few weeks.
Give a title to the passage (not more than five words)
The writer of the passage is an active Nigerian novelist living in Britain. Using your own words (as much as you can), summarize in one paragraph of not than 60 words, her reason for returning to Britain.
(Passage and questions culled from Functional Use of English and Communication, by Okpara et al. (Editors). May 2012).
The writer’s reasons for returning to Britain include the ineptitude of services caused by overwhelming bureaucracy in Nigeria, the fate of the poor and how the struggle for power and personal prestige permeated the university system. Also, the university wanted to confer professorship on her which will impede her writing career (51 words).
If you follow the steps explained above, you will be able to summarize any given passage.