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A student's desk


Summarising is an important skill in academic writing. It enables you to extract the most important points from a text and rewrite them in your own words, in a shortened form. Such skills are invaluable when you are note taking and researching for an essay. Being able to write a good summary also demonstrates that you have fully understood the text you are reading.

Listen to an audio and visual overview of the learning object.


To show you the importance of good summarising skills
To guide you through a set of exercises which aim to improve your summarising skills

Activity 1: Recognising a good summary

In this activity you will learn about the different techniques used to create a good summary.

1) Nominalisation, i.e. changing a verb into a noun [5kb]

2) Changing adverbs to adjectives

3) Breaking up long sentences into shorter sentences

4) Joining short sentences together with linking words.


There are 3 sentences below. Underneath each sentence are 2 summaries (shortened versions of the sentence). Decide which of the summary sentences best summarises the original sentence. Click on the corresponding check box. Check your answer with the feedback.

One of the most commonly practised activities in modern day society is travelling between two countries on a huge mechanical device, which has two wings, a tail and four engines, for no other purpose than for pleasure.

Coffee, made from adding water to ground coca beans, is dark brown in colour, quite bitter to drink and is rapidly becoming the preferred tipple of many a person throughout the world.

Increases in the movement of population, food, and livestock, added to an increase in the use of fossil fuels, an overall increase of pollution from cars, factories and industrial chemicals in addition to a demand for more efficient and cheaper air travel, are creating more extreme problems in the gradual temperature issues related to our planet at the moment.

Activity 2: Summarise the following sentences

Now that you have seen what constitutes a good summary, it is your turn to begin summarising. Decide what the main idea of the sentence is before you start writing. This will help you to stay focused.


Summarise the sentences which are in bold. Write your answers in the text entry boxes before clicking the feedback button.

University professors, who have often worked in the same institution for years and years, are experts in their field of interest and study and will probably have written many books.

Swine flu, a strain of the HN1N1 influenza virus, is a strange and harmful viral infection which is currently sweeping across the globe, instigating both sickness and death, causing people to fall into states of pandemonium and panic.

The formal testing of knowledge which takes place annually is a cause of great stress and concern for most students.

Activity 3: Summarising a paragraph

In academic writing, texts are usually more than one sentence long. They can be quite long in length and made up of several paragraphs. You will therefore need to extract the relevant information from each paragraph when making a summary.


Choose the best summary of the paragraph. Remember to focus on the main point of the paragraph. Try not to include non-essential information. Choose summary 1, 2 or 3 and cut and paste the answer into the text box. Check your answer with the feedback.

There are various ways of preparing for cultural shock. It is helpful to learn as much of the language as possible before going to the country, to learn about the new culture, in particular aspects such as time differences, communication, conflict resolution, climate, standard of living, transportation, ethical practices, holidays, superstitions, taboos and technology. However, something that is extremely difficult to prepare for is what is known as ‘ecoshock’, the result of a person’s ‘physiological and psychological reaction to a new, diverse, or changed ecology’, a typical example of this being travel dysrhythmia, or jet lag, when people’s biological clocks have problems synchronizing with the local time. Physiological adjustment to the temperature, humidity, and altitude are also features of ecoshock, though these are generally coped with in the initial stage of cultural shock rather than being prolonged difficulties in the process of adjustment to life in a new country. For those who take frequent short trips abroad, however, ecoshock may be the most difficult part of dealing with cultural shock, since they do not experience its various longer term phases.

Martin, J.S. and Chaney, L.H. (2006). Global Business Etiquette Westport, CT, USA: Praeger Publishers

1) There are many ways of getting ready for cultural shock. It is useful to learn as much of the language as you can before going there, to learn about the new traditions, in particular factors such as attitudes to time, talking, arguments, weather, poverty, getting around, moral practices, vacations, beliefs, areas which cause discussion and innovation. However, something that is very difficult to get ready for is what is known as ‘ecoshock’, the sum of a person’s ‘physiological and psychological reaction to a new, diverse, or changed ecology’, a typical example of this being travel problems, or ‘jet lag’, when people’s inner clocks have problems matching up with the local time. Bodily adjustment to the climate, changes in the water in the air, and height are also features of ‘ecoshock', though these are generally dealt with in the first stage of cultural shock rather than being extended difficulties in the process of changing to life in a new nation. For those who take short trips abroad often, however, ‘ecoshock’ may be the most difficult part of accepting cultural shock, as they do not experience its many longer term phases.

2) Preparing for cultural shock can be done in many different ways but you can’t really prepare for ecoshock which is potentially the most difficult part of culture shock.

3) Preparation for cultural shock can take different forms, e.g. learning about the target culture and learning the language. However, preparing for particular aspects of culture shock, such as ‘ecoshock’ is more difficult because it is hard to adjust one’s body to ‘local time’, weather, ‘humidity’ and ‘altitude’. Features such as these are usually experienced in the initial, rather than latter, stages of culture shock.

Activity 4: Summarising a paragraph 2

In this activity you will practise summarising a paragraph of a text. You are given no help and no sample summaries to choose from.


Write a summary of the following paragraph. Write in the text box provided. Check your summary with the possible answer given in the feedback.

In amongst these formal services networks, however, are a series of hidden niches, often prime public spaces (e.g. car parks, main thoroughfares or parks) which homeless people colonise at particular times for particular purposes, and which become re-classified as places of homelessness. Research has found that these formal networks and hidden niches are interspersed by carefully mapped out geographies, as homeless people sleep, eat, deal with cold and wet weather, arrange their ablutions and addictions and relate to each other in ways which incorporate fun and social association but also fear and avoidance of regulation. Flows of movement result, as people find places to set up ‘home’, make friends, ensure security and seek money and entertainment. Such flows involve performances, such as begging, and ‘hanging out’, which produces a life of its own. Thus, silently mapped geographies can become underpinned by logic relating to space, as in Bristol’s ‘food route’ – a time-space map of free eating opportunities, or the organisation and regulation of begging pitches. Spatial logics vary enormously between places, according to the visibility, regulation and policing of street homelessness at the local level.

Reference: Cloke, P., Johnsen, S & J. May. (2009). Homeless places: the uneven geographies of emergency provision for single
homeless people
[Online]. Available at Accessed 3/8/10 (Adapted)

Activity 5: Summarising a short text

Underneath is a short text about swine flu and global flu pandemics


Summarise the short text in a couple of paragraphs. Write your answer in the text entry box.

Today, the pandemic alert level was raised to 5, just one level away from epidemic proportions. This, according to the World health Organisation, is because deaths attributed to the virus have occurred in countries in which the virus was not born. In layman’s terms, we are facing a global flu pandemic the likes of which have not been seen since the 1918 flu pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu), in which an influenza virus spread to nearly every part of the world and reportedly killed more than 40 million people. The increase of this pandemic alert to level 5 has instilled fear and panic into the hearts of most people. Despite continual assurance that we are prepared for the pandemic, there are signs throughout the world – the global rush to purchase facemasks - that people are not listening to the experts.

A pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus, which people have no immunity to, emerges and starts spreading with the same ferocity as normal influenza. Experts have been forecasting for many years that the world is on the brink of a pandemic. Such speculations are based on the fact that records show that a global epidemic occurs every forty to fifty years. Simple calculations thus reveal that we are about 40 years overdue.

As with all diseases and illnesses, mutations occur leaving the virus more resistant to common drugs, and leaving common immune systems without antibodies to fight the virus. What people do not seem to realise however, is that the swine flu is relatively harmless in its effects on people, and that we are indeed well placed to tackle this outbreak in terms of anti-viral drugs and medical care. Indeed, should a pandemic occur, the population of the world will not face such terrible consequences as in 1918.


Activity 6: Summarising aural information

Summarising skills are not only useful for writing but also for extracting and noting down important information that you hear. In the following exercise you will hear a short round up of the days news from the BBC.


Follow this link to the BBC's newspod homepage. Listen to the podcast. Use the podcast grid to help you pinpoint the most important information. Locating the most relevant information will help you to summarise and take notes. When you have finished listening, summarise the main ideas of the podcast in as few words as possible.

Would you like to review the main points?

© Jessica Cooper / Queen Mary University of London /photgraph used under the attributive creative commons license courtesy of gudmd.haralds June 19 2008