How to improve your Summary Writing skills ?

The higher you rise in your career, it is more likely that you will have to make spoken or written summaries. In many jobs like those in journalism, communication, armed forces, teaching, and in business, making a summary is often a matter of daily routine.

Making a summary may involve:

  • Making a total summary of the whole of the original;
  • Making a selective summary, that is, a summary of some of the information or ideas expressed in the passage.

Summary involves all the skills required for general competence in the use of language. It is an accurate measure of your ability to communicate. It tests you in comprehension and in composition. Such an exercise demands:

  • That you understand what you read; and
  • That you can express in your own words what you read.

Qualities of a Good Summary:

  • A good summary must be complete and self-contained, which means that it must convey the whole sense of the passage and it must have all the elements of the answer required.
  • It must have writer's own way of expression. It must not be a patch-work made up of phrases quoted form the original
  • It must be precise and brief. Do away with all unimportant details, digression or irrelevant material.
  • It must read like a continuous piece of prose. Avoid using jerky, disjointed sentences.
  • The summary must be in a clear and simple English.

Method for effective Summary Writing

  1. Read carefully the passage and make sure what exactly you have to look for.
  2. Write down all the important points in order. These will serve as a frame-work for you summary.
  3. Note the length or number of words ( such as "in not more than sixty words") prescribed for the summary and write out the first draft.
  4. Use the same tense as in the original unless otherwise instructed.
  5. You can write the summary in the third on in the first person, depending on the original. If the original is in the first person, it it not necessary to change to the third person.
  6. Chose your own words and expressions as far as possible. The instructions to all summary questions advise you to use your own words. What the examiners want to see in that you have absorbed the information as well as the ideas in the passage, and you can express them in your own words as if it were you giving the information and ideas. Do not use any words from the passages other than the those that are essential for writing the summary.
  7. Do not give irrelevant information, illustrative material, and avoid repetition. if yo make a general statement, there is no need to give quotations or examples.
  8. Write in a straightforward language. The purpose of the summary-writing to see whether you have understood the passage and can sift the essential from the non-essential. To show that you can do this, your final summary should be easily understood by a reader. It should flow naturally as though you are expressing your own ideas and not mention, but do not add these to the summary.
  9. Revise your draft comparing it to the original passage to ensure that you have included all the important points.

Writing about People's Characters

Questions asking you to write about people are almost as common as those about places. It is necessary, therefore to practice how to depict characters thought the medium of words. The subject-matter for such compositions is based on your experience of the people you meet or know. If you write directly from life, your character-sketch is more likely to be vivid and convincing.

In every story you write, there are people. They are usually called characters. The reader must be able to recognize the people in the story as recall people. If he cannot do this, he does not get interested in them. The reader, whether he likes or dislikes the characters, must feel something's about them. In order to achieve the desired result, you need the technical skill to bring your characters to life. You must give them motives for their conduct. Characters reveal their nature through their words and actions.

When you wish to depict a character you may ask the following questions with a view to gathering material. How does he look like? What does he wear? What work does he do ? What is his social background ? What are his convictions ? What are his interests ? What is the subject of his conversation ? What do other people say and feel about him ? Does he say or do something which is typical of his character ?

Guidelines for depiction characters

If you are asked to write about people, you may proceed in the following way:

1. By using your power of observation:
Write about their appearance, dress, habits, life-history, interests, family-background, their opinions, and what other think about them; as:


Kit was shock-headed, awkward, shambling lad, with an uncommonly wide mouth, very red cheeks, a turned up nose, and certainly the most comical expression of face I ever saw.

Charles Dickens

In the following passage, the author gives a complete picture of Cedric. We first have a description of his figure, his head, dress (beginning and ending with his tunic). Lastly, we are given the details of his ornaments and his weapon.


Cedric was not above middle stature, but broad-shouldered, long-armed, and powerfully made, like one accustomed to endure the fatigue of war or of the chase; his face was broad, with large blue eyes, open and frank features, fine teeth, and a well-formed head, altogether expressive of that sort of good humor which often lodges with a sudden and hasty temper. His long, yellow hair was equally divided on the top of his head and upon his brow, and combed down on each side to the length of his shoulders; it had but little tendency to grey, although Cedric was approaching his sixtieth year.

His dress was a tunic of forest green, furred at the throat and cuffs with what was called mine ever, a kind of fur inferior in quality to ermine, and formed, it is believed, of the skin of the grey squirrel. This doublet hung unbuttoned over a close dress of scarlet which sat right to his body; he had breeches of the same, but they did not reach below the lower part of the thigh, leaving the knee exposed. His feet had sandals of the same fashion with the peasants, but of finer materials, and secured in the front with golden clasps. He had bracelets of gold upon his arms, and a broad collar of the same precious metal around his neck. About his waist he wore a richly studded belt, in which was stuck a short, straight, two-edged sword, with a sharp point, so disposed as to hand almost perpendicularly by his side.

Sir Walter Scoot

2. By depicting character in speech:

Persons reveal their character through their speech. Small sentences spoken by the character give the reader some sense of reality and break the monotony of narration. In the following passage, note what Unoka says about the folly of not eating.

In his day Unoka was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow. If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine, called round his neighbors and made merry. He always said that whenever he saw a dead man's mouth he saw the folly of not eating what one had in one's lifetime. Unoka was, of course, a debtor and he owed every neighbor some money, from a few cowries to quite substantial amounts.

He was tall about very thin and had a slight stop. He wore a hogged and mournful look except when he was drinking or playing on his flute. He was very good on his flute, and his happiest moments were during the tow or three moons after the harvest when the village musicians brought down their instruments, hung above the fireplace. Unoka's band and their dancing egwugwu used to come and stay with them and teach them their tunes. They would go to such hosts for a long as three or four markets, making music and feasting. Unoka loved the good fare and the good fellowship and he loved this season of the year, when the rains had stopped and the sun rose every morning with dazzling beauty.

3. By depicting the character in action :

Write about actions which the character performs in a particular way, which reveal what kind of a person he is. These help build up his picture in our mind. For example, a description of Pip's sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations is given below. In this extract, note how Mrs. Gergery's action of cutting bread tells us about her character.

"My sister had a trenchant way of cutting bread-and-butter for us, that never varies. First with her left hand she jammed the loaf hard and fast against her bib - where it sometimes got a pin into it, and sometimes a needle, which we afterwards got into our mouths. Then she took some butter (not too much) on a knife and spead it on the loaf, in an apothecary kind of way, as if she were making a plaster - using both sides of knife with a slapping dexterity, and trimming and moduleding the butter oof round the crust. Then she gave the knife and final smart wipe on the edge of the plaster, and then sawed a very thick round of the loaf: which she finally, before separating from the loaf, hewed into two halves of which Joe got one, and I the other."

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

4. By comparisons and associations:

Compare the character with other figures you know, or about whom you heard; you could compare some aspects of their character with objects and ideas.

5. By choice of words

And picking out particular details that the depict the character vividly, e.g., She was witch-like, a tall, silent dark woman. Here is another example.


Singh was in his middle twenties. He was very dark and stockily built and his face had not rid itself of the ravages of adolescence. It was scarred and pitted with craters. When he laughed his gums were exposed and one saw his crooked, yellowing teeth, like those of an old man. Singh laughed a great deal but there was something mocking and furtive in his laughter. It did not inspire trust. His laughter was just that shade to loud, to ringing and too ready; and it was interspersed with those briefly glimpsed flashes of ferocity when the blood darkened his rough face and he bit hard on his twitching lower lip.

6. By associating the characters with one particular point of view

By associating the characters with one particular point of view or action by which they can be easily identified. Read the following passage from Hard Times by Charles Dickens and note how Dickens reinforces the idea that Gradgrind is a man of facts and calculations:

"Thomas Gradgrind, Sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales and the multiplication table always in his pocket, Sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind ( all suppositions, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind - no Sir!"