MU-OER Project Soft Skills- Index/Summarisation

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SLMtitle.png Learning Objectives

  • Learning skimming
  • Learning scanning
  • Writing a summary

SLMtitle.png Introduction

A summary distills the essence of a long text. The main ideas are retained while details, explanations and examples are left out. It aims to reduce a text to its most important ideas. Summarisation is useful for making notes from books and lectures or for writing abstracts / synopses.

Summarisation is a useful skill not just for students but also for professionals who have to deal with large quantities of data. It develops critical reading because you have to identify essential ideas and leave out everything else. Rewriting the ideas in your own words will also help you to polish your vocabulary and writing skills.

SLMtitle.png Active reading

Active reading is the first step in summarisation. Normally, we read a text from start to finish and then re-read it for summarisation. Active reading helps in identifying important ideas in the first reading itself. It involves reading with the aim of selecting essential material and separating it from the details. Skimming and scanning are types of active reading that help in summarisation.

SLMtitle.png Skimming

  • Skimming is used to obtain an overall idea of a piece of text.
  • Don't read the whole text word-for-word. Let your eyes skim over the surface of the text and look out for key words.
  • Read the title and subtitles to find out what the text is about.
  • Look at the illustrations to give you a better idea about the topic.
  • Read the first and last sentences of each paragraph.
  • Don't read every word or every sentence. Let your eyes skim over the text, taking in key words.
  • Use the five wh-questions to think about the meaning of the text. As you are reading, keep asking what?, how?, when?, where? and why?

SLMact.gif Activity

Skim through the following text (within 60 seconds) and write down its central thesis in 2-3 lines:

  • Work forms a major part of most people's lives. For some, it is boring, so routine and dehumanising that it is highly stressful and each day becomes something to be endured with difficulty. For others, work is so exciting that they would far rather be working than doing anything else. For some, it is a source of self-esteem; for others, the treatment they receive totally destroys any self-esteem they may have had. Many marriage breakdowns are blamed on the stresses and demands of one partner's job (or both partners' jobs). Some jobs have specific health or physical risks associated with them. More generally, sickness rates correlate with different sorts of work. Studies show that to be without a job at all is highly stressful, destructive of self-esteem, and associated with ill health and relationship difficulties.

SLMtitle.png Scanning

Scanning is a fast reading technique. Its aim is to look for specific information in a text.

Scanning can be used to search for a phone number, or for browsing TV schedules, timetables, lists, catalogues or web pages for information. In scanning, you only search for specific information; you don't need to read or understand every word.

Scanning is also useful when studying a book or article quickly or when there isn't enough time to read every word.

  • Don't try to read every word. Instead let your eyes move quickly across the page until you find what you are looking for.
  • Use clues on the page, such as headings and titles, to help you.
  • Start by noting down some questions that you want to answer. Doing this can focus your mind and help you find the facts or information that you need more easily.

SLMact.gif Activity

Scan the following passage to answer the questions given below:

  • Dozens of times you have seen him and probably not realized that he is creature more remarkable than anything in the zoo. His is one of Earth’s oldest inhabitants, and a long pageant of life has passed before his small, sharp eyes. He was present to greet the arrival of dinosaurs 170 million years ago, and to bid them goodbye more than 100 million years later. He saw the Rockies, the Alps, and Appalachians push their way upward. He was already an old-timer when Texas oil and West Virginia coal were formed. If one expresses his 350 million year tenure on Earth in terms of a calendar year, the year was nearly over- December 30- when he welcomed the late arrival, man.

We are speaking of the lowly cockroach.

At a time our very survival on Earth is in jeopardy we might do well to observe him. The cockroach has learned more about survival than any other creature. A living fossil, he has some extraordinary attributes. He lives anywhere, from the middle of the Sahara to military kitchens in Labrador. Lately, cockroaches have acquired a new home in TV sets, where the parts provide warmth, plus wax and paraffin, an acceptable if not epicurean diet. But less than one percent of the 3500 known species prefer the home of man to other environments. Some live in the burrows of ground squirrels. Others prefer the forest.

  • Name the creature described in the passage.
  • Name the other animals mentioned in the passage.
  • When did dinosaurs arrive on Earth?
  • When did dinosaurs become extinct?
  • How long have cockroaches lived on earth?
  • Which desert can the cockroach survive in?
  • How many species of cockroach exist?

SLMtitle.png How to summarise a text

  • Divide the text into sections
  • Read
  • Active reading: Skim and scan through the text. Circle key words. Find the main point of the text. Divide the text into sections or stages of thought.
  • Underline topic sentences and key facts. Label areas that you want to refer to as you write your summary.
  • Also label areas that should be avoided because the details—though they may be interesting—are too specific.
  • Identify areas that you do not understand and try to clarify those points.
  • Write down the main idea of each section in one well-developed sentence. Make sure that what you include in your sentences are key points, not minor details.
  • Create a thesis statement that clearly indicates the purpose of the entire text.
  • Use the thesis statement as the introductory sentence of your summary, and your other sentences can make up the body. Make sure that they are in order. Add some transition words (then, however, also, moreover) that help with the overall structure and flow of the summary.
  • Check for accuracy.
  • Revise for style, grammar, and punctuation.

SLMtitle.png Writing the summary

  • A summary is usually written in the present tense.
  • Be concise: a summary should be much shorter than the original text.
  • Rewrite the main ideas in your own words. If you must use the words of the author, quote them.
  • Be objective: Don't put your own opinions, ideas, or interpretations into the summary. A summary should encapsulate what the author wanted to say; it should not critique the original text.
  • Present the ideas in the same logical order as the author, except where there are repetitions.
  • Your summary should be clear even to a reader who has not read the original text.

SLMact.gif Activity
Summary writing 1

Write a summary of the following passage:

  • First, the teacher's personality should be pleasantly live and attractive. This does not rule out people who are physically plain, or even ugly, because many such have great personal charm. But it does rule out such types as the over-excitable, melancholy, frigid, sarcastic, cynical, frustrated, and over-bearing : I would say too, that it excludes all of dull or purely negative personality. I still stick to what I said in my earlier book: that school children probably 'suffer more from bores than from brutes'.

Secondly, it is not merely desirable but essential for a teacher to have a genuine capacity for sympathy - in the literal meaning of that word; a capacity to tune in to the minds and feelings of other people, especially, since most teachers are school teachers, to the minds and feelings of children. Closely related with this is the capacity to be tolerant - not, indeed, of what is wrong, but of the frailty and immaturity of human nature which induce people, and again especially children, to make mistakes. Thirdly, I hold it essential for a teacher to be both intellectually and morally honest. This does not mean being a plaster saint. It means that he will be aware of his intellectual strengths, and limitations, and will have thought about and decided upon the moral principles by which his life shall be guided. There is no contradiction in my going on to say that a teacher should be a bit of an actor. That is part of the technique of teaching, which demands that every now and then a teacher should be able to put on an act - to enliven a lesson, correct a fault, or award praise. Children, especially young children, live in a world that is rather larger than life. A teacher must remain mentally alert. He will not get into the profession if of low intelligence, but it is all too easy, even for people of above-average intelligence, to stagnate intellectually - and that means to deteriorate intellectually. A teacher must be quick to adapt himself to any situation, however improbable and able to improvise, if necessary at less than a moment's notice. (Here I should stress that I use 'he' and 'his' throughout the book simply as a matter of convention and convenience.) On the other hand, a teacher must be capable of infinite patience. This, I may say, is largely a matter of self-discipline and self-training; we are none of us born like that. He must be pretty resilient; teaching makes great demands on nervous energy. And he should be able to take in his stride the innumerable petty irritations any adult dealing with children has to endure. Finally, I think a teacher should have the kind of mind which always wants to go on learning. Teaching is a job at which one will never be perfect; there is always something more to learn about it. There are three principal objects of study: the subject, or subjects, which the teacher is teaching; the methods by which they can best be taught to the particular pupils in the classes he is teaching; and - by far the most important - the children, young people, or adults to whom they are to be taught. The two cardinal principles of British education today are that education is education of the whole person, and that it is best acquired through full and active co-operation between two persons, the teacher and the learner. (From Teaching as a Career, by H. C. Dent)

SLMact.gif Activity
Summary writing 2

Write a summary of the following passage:

  • Everywhere we turn, we see the symbolic process at work. Feathers worn on the head or stripes on the sleeve can be made to stand for military leadership; cowrie shells or rings of brass or pieces of paper can stand for wealth; crossed sticks can stand for a set of religious beliefs; buttons, elks' teeth, ribbons, special styles of ornamental haircutting or tattooing, can stand for social affiliations. The symbolic process permeates human life at the most primitive as well as at the most civilized levels.

Of all forms of symbolism, language is the most highly developed, most subtle, and most complicated. It has been pointed out that human beings, by agreement, can make anything stand for anything. Now human beings have agreed, in the course of centuries of mutual dependency, to let the various noises that they can produce with their lungs, throats, tongues, teeth, and lips systematically stand for specified happenings in their nervous systems. We call that system of agreements language. For example, we who speak English have been so trained that, when our nervous systems register the presence of a certain kind of animal, we may make the following noise: 'There's a cat.' Anyone hearing us expects to find that, by looking in the same direction, he will experience a similar event in his nervous system - one that will lead him to make an almost identical noise. Again, we have been so trained that when we are conscious of wanting food we make the noise 'I'm hungry.' There is, as has been said, no necessary connection between the symbol and that which is symbolized. Just as men can wear yachting costumes without ever having been near a yacht, so they can make the noise, 'I'm hungry', without being hungry. Furthermore, just as social rank can be symbolized by feathers in the hair, by tattooing on the breast, by gold ornaments on the watch chain, or by a thousand different devices according to the culture we live in, so the fact of being hungry can be symbolized by a thousand different noises according to the culture we live in: 'J'ai faim', or 'Es hungert mich', or 'Ho appetito', or 'Hara ga hetta', and so on. However obvious these facts may appear at first glance, they are actually not so obvious as they seem except when we take special pains to think about the subject. Symbols and things symbolized are independent of each other: nevertheless, we all have a way of feeling as if, and sometimes acting as if, there were necessary con-nections. For example, there is the vague sense we all have that foreign languages are inherently absurd: foreigners have such funny names for things, and why can't they call things by their right names? This feeling exhibits itself most strongly in those English and American tourists who seem to believe that they can make the natives of any country understand English if they shout loud enough. Like the little boy who is reported to have said: 'Pigs are called pigs because they are such dirty animals', they feel that the symbol is inherently connected in some way with the things symbolized. Then there are the people who feel that since snakes are 'nasty, slimy creatures' (incidentally, snakes are not slimy), the word 'snake' is a nasty, slimy word. (From Language in Thought and Action, by S. Hayakawa)