Summary Writing: Understanding the Material

Content and Organisation

To understand the writer’s intention, we need to understand what the material is about and how it is organised. The following questions below should be considered when a piece is to be summarised. They relate to the four different groups of writing–descriptive, narrative, expository and argumentative–respectively:

  • Is the writer describing a person, place, object of situation?
  • Is the writer telling a story, relating events or incidents?
  • Is the writer explaining or conveying information about the nature of a specific condition, process, situation, concept or point of view?
  • Is the writer trying to persuade the reader to a particular point of view?

Note, however, that though these questions relate to the different groups of writing mentioned above it is imperative that you do not label an extract as one or a combination of these types, but understand what the author is trying to do.

Once these questions are answered, you will be in a better position to understand what the piece given to you is saying and how it is organised. It will then be much easier to identify the writer’s intention and by extension summarise what you are given.

The Writer’s Attitude

In order to understand the writer’s intention, or what the author is trying to do, it is important to understand his attitude. The writer can take a certain attitude to what he is describing, relating, explaining or persuading. This attitude can be positive, negative or neutral.

Making Inferences: Stating versus Implying

In understanding a passage, with regards to meaning, the distinction between information stated and information implied is essential. Some sentences will state exactly what is meant whereas other sentences may, with the use of certain words or phrases, imply what is meant.

For Example

Well, people’s tastes in food vary. I do not like lasagna at all. However, if you’re talking about baked spaghetti with meatballs drowned in marinara sauce and parmesan cheese….

The writer states that they do not like lasagna, but implies that he likes baked spaghetti and meatballs drowned in marinara sauce and parmesan cheese.

In the next post we will look at important ideas presented in passages.

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