Journalistic Writing MCM310
Summary and Précis Writing
A graphic representation of the differences between summaries, paraphrases, and interpretations
A summary is an abridgement expressing the main ideas of a text passage through reported speech. A
successful summary is not an exposition of the writer's own opinions, but a distillation of the essential points in
Three points should be kept in mind:
(1) summaries are shorter than original texts,
(2) they contain the main ideas of a text, and
(3) They are in reported speech.
A paraphrase attempts to express the same ideas of an original text in different words. Different wordings
naturally result in slightly different shades of meaning. However, successful paraphrases achieve nearly the
same meaning as an original text. No attempt at brevity is made in paraphrasing. Indeed, if extensive
circumlocution is used, a paraphrase may be longer than its original text.
An interpretative critique evaluates some (or all) of the issues raised in a text. Successful interpretative
critiques offer new critical perspectives regarding some (or all) of the ideas stated in an original passage by
introducing information outside of the original text passage.
outside or original
Shorter than original
No (unless in original Yes and No (both
Any length possible
Journalistic Writing MCM310
Figure 2 - A cloze diagram contrasting three writing genres
I am a Taiwanese man, but I have lived in Canada for several years now. I am surprised at how Canadian
society respects the rights of women, both at work and home. Personally I believe women in Canada are better
off than women in Taiwan. However, some of my female friends in Canada miss the good old days when
women were treated in a different ways. You see, in the past, gentlemen followed different rules of behavior.
They would open the doors for ladies, pull out chairs for ladies to sit down, stand up when a lady left the table,
and offer to pay the bill at restaurants. Now, however, most Canadian believes that men and women should be
considered equal. For example, women now generally have to pay for their own meals.
[133 words From Ming Chuan University PE5 Examination, autumn 2000 Day Version]
This text describes the experience of a Taiwanese man who has lived in Canada for several years. He considers
Canadian women better off than Taiwanese. However, he notes some Canadian women feel nostalgic about the
days when they received special courtesies. For example, formerly men opened doors for women or paid for
their meals. At this time, most Canadians endeavor to treat men and women equally. Women today therefore
are expected to cover the cost of their own meals.
I'm Taiwanese and have lived in Canada for several years. The way Canadians respect women's rights, both at
work and home, is surprising. My opinion is that Canadian women are better off than Taiwanese. Some women
in Canada whom I know miss the days when they were treated differently. Behavior standards differed in the
past. At one time, men opened doors for women, pulled out chairs for them, and offered to pay their bills
when dining out. Now, however, most Canadians believe men and women should be regarded as equals. As a
result, women now must generally pay for their own meals. [103 words]
I think that men and women should be treated equally. In Taiwan this is rarely the case, so in many ways
Canadian women are luckier than Taiwanese. Though men often pay for women's meals in Taiwan, they also
earn more than women, which is unfair. Most women appreciate courtesies such as having doors opened for
them. However, a more pressing need is gender equality - especially in the workplace. Men and women doing
the same work should get the same pay. In the future, I hope Taiwanese women will have the same rights as
Canadian women. [95 words]
CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD SUMMARY:
A good summary has the following characteristics:
Proper Citation: The summary begins by citing the title, author, source, and, in the case of a magazine or
journal article, the date of publication and the text.
Thesis Statement: The overall thesis of the text selection is the author's central theme. There are several
aspects to an effective thesis statement:
- It comprises two parts:
a) The topic or general subject matter of the text, and
b) The author's major assertion, comment, or position on the topic.
- This central theme is summarized clearly and accurately in a one sentence thesis statement
- The thesis statement does not contain specific details discussed in the text
Journalistic Writing MCM310
- The thesis statement is stated at the beginning of the summary.
Supporting Ideas: The author supports his/her thesis with supporting ideas. Use the following basic
guidelines when summarising supporting ideas:
- Cover all of the author's major supporting ideas.
- Show the relationships among these ideas.
- Omit specifics, such as illustrations, descriptions, and detailed explanations.
- Indicate the author's purpose in writing: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. If the passage is a persuasive
piece, report the author's bias or position on the issue.
- Omit all personal opinions, ideas, and inferences. Let the reader know that you are reporting the author's
Grammar and the Mechanics of Writing: Grammar and related concerns ensure that, as a writer, you
communicate clearly to your reader. The following are particularly important:
- Restate the ideas in your own words as much as possible. Avoid direct quotations.
- Use transitional words for a smooth and logical flow of ideas.
- Edit and re-write your work.
- Check your grammar, punctuation, and spelling
Length: The length of a summary depends on how long the original document is.
STEPS IN WRITING A SUMMARY:
Initially, summary writing can seem like a challenging task. It requires careful reading and reflective thinking
about the article. Most of us, however, tend to skim read without focused reflection, but with time and effort,
the steps listed here can help you become an effective summary writer.
Read the article
Reread the Article.
- Divide the article into segments or sections of ideas. Each segment deals with one aspect of the central
theme. A segment can comprise one or more paragraphs. Note: news magazine articles tend to begin with an
anecdote. This is the writer's lead into the article, but does not contain the thesis or supporting ideas.
Typically, a feature lead does not constitute a segment of thought.
- Label each segment. Use a general phrase that captures the subject matter of the segment. Write the label in
the margin next to the segment.
- Highlight or underline the main points and key phrases.
Write One-Sentence summaries.
- Write a one-sentence summary for each segment of thought on a separate sheet of paper.
Formulate the Thesis Statement.
- Formulate a central theme that weaves the one-sentence segment summaries together. This is your thesis
- In many articles, the author will state this directly. You may wish to take his direct statement of the thesis and
restate it in your own words. Note: In news magazine articles, the thesis is often suggested through the
article's title and sub-title.
Journalistic Writing MCM310
- In other articles, you may have to write your own one-sentence thesis statement that summarizes this central
Write Your First Draft.
- Begin with a proper citation of the title, author, source, and date of publication of the article summarised.
- Combine the thesis statement and your one-sentence segment summaries into a one-to-two-paragraph
- Eliminate all unnecessary words and repetitions.
- Eliminate all personal ideas and inferences.
- Use transitions for a smooth and logical flow of ideas.
- Conclude with a "summing up" sentence by stating what can be learned from reading the article.
Edit Your Draft. Check your summary by asking the following questions:
- Have I answered who, what, when, why, and how questions?
- Is my grammar, punctuation, and spelling correct?
- Have I left out my personal views and ideas?
- Does my summary "hang together"? Does it flow when I read it aloud?
- Have someone else read it. Does the summary give them the central ideas of the article?
Write Your Final Draft.
Original Passage I:
Height connotes status in many parts of the world. Executive offices are usually on the top floors; the
underlings work below. Even being tall can help a person succeed. Studies have shown that employers are
more willing to hire men over 6 feet tall than shorter men with the same credentials. Studies of real-world
executives and graduates have shown that taller men make more money. In one study, every extra inch of
height brought in an extra $1,300 a year. But being too big can be a disadvantage. A tall, brawny football player
complained that people found him intimidating off the field and assumed he "had the brains of a Twinkie." (p.
---Locker, K. O. (2003). Business and administrative communication (6th Ed) St. Louis, MO: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.
Let's first identify the main points in the original passage.
Topic sentence: "Height connotes status in many parts of the world."
Main point: "Even being tall can help a person succeed."
Main point: "Executive offices are usually on the top"
Main point: "being too big can be a disadvantage"
For this example, we'll look at multiple summaries. As you read the sample summaries below determine if the
main points were included and if the unimportant points were discarded.
Also check to see if both wording and sentence structure do not follow those of the original.
Throughout the world, being tall will lead to professional success. In fact, research shows that employers are
more likely to hire taller men and to pay them more, as compared to shorter men with the same qualifications
Journalistic Writing MCM310
[This summary is too brief. Further, it changes the meaning slightly, giving the impression that being tall
In most countries, height suggests status. For instance, higher executives normally use top floors of office
buildings. Further, research shows that men over six feet tall are more likely to be hired than those shorter than
them but with the same qualifications. Taller men also receive greater incomes, possibly as much as $1,300 a
year more than that only one inch shorter than them. However, as a tall and muscular football player points
out, a disadvantage to being tall is that some individuals may perceive you as threatening or even dumb
[This summary is too long. Instead of focusing on the main points, it includes all of the details that are in the
Though height may connote slowness to some people, in the business world, it is almost universally associated
with success. For example, taller men are more likely to be hired and to have greater salaries. Further, those in
top positions within a company are more likely to work on the top floors of office buildings (Locker, 2003).
[This summary is the most effective. In addition to including all of the main points, it leaves out the
ELJ Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2. Fall 2001 (p. 1)
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