Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tips on summary writing



TODAY, we will look at Section C which makes up a substantial part of the SPM 1119 English Paper Two. This section consists of two parts – Reading Comprehension and Summary Writing, which carry 10 and 15 marks respectively.

The reading comprehension questions aim to test your understanding of the passage as well as vocabulary. Among the skills tested are recognising general and specific ideas, finding important details and guessing meaning from context.

Guidelines for comprehension

1. Read the whole passage through once to get a general idea of what the passage is about. Do not worry if you come across unfamiliar words. Sometimes, it is not necessary to understand every word you read.

2. Read the passage a second time, if necessary. The second reading helps you take in the details and improve your understanding.

3. Read the questions carefully. Use cue words in the questions to help you answer the questions. These can be the “wh” words (what, when, where, why, who, whose, how) and action verbs (identify, find, list).

4. Questions sometimes contain words found in the passage. Use these words to help you identify the part of the passage where the answer can be found.

5. You can lift clauses or sentences from the passage to answer questions. You do not have to use your own words unless you are told to do so. Moreover, there is a danger in paraphrasing – you might alter/distort the meaning expressed in the passage.

6. For questions on vocabulary, if you are asked for a word, then give only ONE word and nothing else. Make sure you spell the word correctly. If you are asked for a phrase, then give the relevant phrase.

7. Some questions require you to use your own words and you must do so.

8. Do pay attention to the tense used in the questions when formulating your answers.

Pitfalls to avoid

1. Do not give more than the required information. Sometimes, students copy chunks from a text, giving two or more sentences. This only highlights their weakness – failure to understand the question and/or text.

2. Do not give two or more answers to a question. Some students write down all the possible answers to a question just to be on the safe side.

3. Do not waste time paraphrasing answers unless you are asked to do so.

Summary writing

Many students are concerned about summary writing for several reasons: they are unable to identify information relevant to the answer and are unable to put the information together into a coherent paragraph. Weak students have an additional problem to grapple with – language. While these concerns are genuine, there is no reason to fret as these problems can be easily overcome with proper guidance and help from teachers.

Let me remind you that summary writing is not a writing skill. It is largely a reading skill (you are required to select relevant information in the text) with a bit of writing thrown in (you have to string the points together into a unified text).

The task is made easier for you as you do not need to summarise the whole text, only certain aspects (usually two). Therefore, it is crucial that you read the question carefully and consider what information is relevant.

Remember, you need to identify at least 10 points (for content). So do not worry too much about paraphrasing. Focus on getting marks for content, not language.

Summary writing involves specific skills such as the following:

  • Selection – This means choosing information that is relevant to your answer. Information that is relevant to your answer depends on the aspect(s) of the text you are to summarise.

  • Condensation – This means reducing the length of the given information while preserving the important points. This can be done by omitting unimportant details, or using single words to replace phrases or clauses.

  • Reorganisation or rearrangement – This means taking the given information and arranging it in a different way.

  • Paraphrasing or restatement – This means saying something in a different way, without changing the meaning.

    Guidelines for summary writing:

    1. Read the question carefully. Ask yourself: “What am I required to summarise”.

    2. Mark the first and last lines of the passage you are asked to refer to.

    3. Then select information that is relevant to your answer. To do this, underline the relevant lines or ideas as you read the text. Always ask yourself: “Is this??” (For the summary below, you would ask: “Is this what Yunus did to help the poor? Is this an improvement in the lives of the women?”).

    4. Look through the lines/ideas you have underlined.

    5. Summarise these ideas, using condensation, reorganisation or paraphrasing skills.

    6. If you cannot paraphrase ideas, see if there are words in the text that you can replace.

    7. Begin the summary with the 10 words given and remember that the three dots after the tenth word mean you have to complete the sentence with some relevant information from the text.

    8. Organise the ideas/points in the manner in which they are found in the text.

    9. Adhere to the word limit. Writing more than the required number of words will not get you any marks. Anything far too short of the word limit means you lack content.

    10. Pay attention to the tense (and sometimes pronoun) used in the given 10 words.

    11. Write the summary in one paragraph.

    Pitfalls to avoid

    1. Do not include information not in the text.

    2. Do not include your own ideas or opinions.

    3. Do not spend too much time paraphrasing as you might end up losing marks for content unless you can do so without altering/distorting meaning.

    4. Do not repeat ideas. Sometimes, an idea is repeated in the text and you may not notice it as it may have been paraphrased.

    5. Do not include material from other lines in the text.

    Let’s take a look at a sample reading text.

    Study the passage below and see how the questions that follow have been answered. The answers to the comprehension questions have been put in bold in the passage while those to the summary have been underlined.

    1 Dr Muhammad Yunus, a banker and economist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his efforts to improve the economic and social conditions of the disadvantaged poor in Bangladesh. Hailed as a rare visionary, Yunus, who leads a simple life, wants to eradicate poverty from the world. 5

    2 Dr Yunus’ fight against poverty began during the famine of 1974 which killed 1.5 million Bangladeshis. As a professor of economics at Chittagong University, he was teaching his students that the longer you work the more you earn. Yet, this economic theory did not seem to work in Bangladesh. He was dumbfounded to learn that people were starving despite working 12 hours every day of the week. 10

    3 With the help of his students he set out to learn why these people were living in poverty. In the village of Jobra, near Chittagong University he came across women who made bamboo furniture. These women had to borrow money from moneylenders to buy the raw materials needed to make bamboo stools. They were also forced to sell these stools to the moneylenders to repay them. Their profit of 0.50 Bangladeshi taka was barely enough for them to support their families. 15

    4 Dr Yunus discovered that these people were at the mercy of moneylenders who charged high interest rates for loans given out. They had no choice but to turn to moneylenders because traditional banks refused to give them small loans at affordable interest rates. Moreover, the banks considered these people repayment risks. 20

    5 This prompted him to set up Grameen Bank in 1976 which gives out small loans or microcredit to destitute Bangladeshis. Loans as little as US$30 are given to very poor people to start their own businesses. Grameen has certain conditions - borrowers must be women. 96% of Grameen’s borrowers are women. Yunus discovered that women were more careful and responsible about their loans as 99% of them usually repay their loans. 25

    6 Another brainchild of Dr Yunus’ is the Grameen Phone or Village Phone. With the Village Phone, the rural popluation of Bangladesh are now able to enjoy phone connectivity. Besides, this is another project which provides rural women with business opportunities. It works along the same principles of Grameen Bank, where rural women are given small loans to buy cellular phones so that they can set up “public call centres” at their homes. The women then use the money they earn to settle their loans. 35

    7 Dr Yunus’ ideas have saved not only the poor from death but also given a new strength to women. Before Grameen, many Bangladeshi women were viewed as useless and a burden by their fathers and husbands. This largely stems from the traditional view that the man is the sole bread winner in a family. With no means to earn money, some of these women especially widows were forced to beg. Now, with microcredit, the women have proven to the men that they too are capable of taking care of their families and supporting them financially. Their self-esteem has also improved as they are now active financial contributors to the family. With more money in hand these women are able to provide better nutrition for their children. Grameen is also responsible for the improved social status of women as men seem to show them more respect. 45

    8 Today Grameen also provides education and housing loans. Financing is also available for irrigation projects and other economic activities. But its main principle remains – helping the poor. Despite the success of Grameen, Dr Yunus is still not satisfied with the changes he has brought about. There is a lot more work that needs to be done to improve the living conditions of the poor. Dr Yunus hopes to use part of the US$1.4 million award he received to set up a company to produce low-cost, high nutrition food for the poor. The other plan he has is to set up an eye hospital for the poor in Bangladesh. 50

    Source: adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grameen_Bank and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Yunus

    Questions 1-5

    1. From paragraph 1,
    (a). why was Dr Yunus given the Nobel Peace Prize?
    (b). what is Dr Yunus’ aim in life?

    2. (a). From paragraph 2, what is “this economic theory”?
    (b). From paragraph 3, what did the women do with the money they borrowed from the moneylenders?

    3. From paragraph 4, give two reasons why poor Bangladeshis could not obtain loans from traditional banks?

    4. From paragraph 5,
    (a). why are 96% of Grameen’s borrowers women?
    (b). find a word which has the same meaning as poor.

    5. (a). From paragraph 7, how has Grameen changed men’s treatment of women?
    (b). From paragraph 8, provide evidence that proves that Yunus is a selfless man.

    Summary question

    Dr Muhammad Yunus is truly a selfless person who has dedicated his life to helping poor people.

    Write a summary about:

    · what Dr Yunus has done to help the poor and

    · how his ideas have helped change the lives of women.

    Your summary must

    · be in continuous writing

    · not be longer than 130 words, including the 10 words given below.

    · use material from lines 24 to 49

    Credit will be given for use of own words but care must be taken not to change the original meaning.

    Begin your summary as follows:
    Dr Yunus’ mission to help the poor improve their lives began?

    Summary Points

    What Dr Yunus has done to help the poor

  • set up Grameen Bank

  • which provides small loans to poor Bangladeshis

  • to help them start their own businesses

  • set up Grameen Phone

  • rural population of Bangladesh are now able to enjoy phone connectivity.

  • provides rural women with business opportunities

    How his ideas have helped change the lives of women

  • the women have proven to the men that they too are capable of taking care of their families and supporting them financially

  • their self-esteem has also improved

  • active financial contributors

  • they are active contributors to the family

  • with more money in hand they are able to provide better nutrition for their children

  • improved social status of women as men show them more respect

    Dr Yunus’ mission to help the poor improve their lives began when he set up Grameen Bank. Grameen provides small loans to poor Bangladeshis to enable them to start their own businesses. Besides Grameen Bank, Dr Yunus also set up Grameen Phone, which enables the rural population of Bangladesh to enjoy phone connectivity. This venture also provides rural women with business opportunities. Dr Yunus’ ideas have helped change the lives of women for the better. They are now capable of taking care of their families and supporting them financially. Their self-esteem has improved as they now take an active role contributing financially. With more financial control, they are able to provide better nutrition for their children. Most importantly, men show them more respect now than they did earlier. (126 words)

    Note: This summary has deliberately not been paraphrased to show you that you can actually lift ideas/sentences from the passage to write a coherent piece.

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