HOW to find the main topic and ideas
Larger texts can include more than one topic and main idea. In this case it is possible to have the topics and the main ideas written in bold, or as heading titles. If the text you need to summarise provides a Table of contents, the titles in this table can give you important clues in detecting the topics and main ideas in that text.
The Table of Contents of Wikipedia article on Lion gives you clues on topics and subjects treated in this article.
Table Contents – The Lion
- Taxonomy and evolution of Lion
- Physical Characteristics of Lion
- Behavior of Lions
- Distribution and habitat
- Population and conservation status
- Cultural significance
The example above show you the categories of information you should search in any expository text about felines or animals in other species: characteristics, habitat, behaviour, population living in the wilderness and conservation status, etc.
Consider any article (from Internet or a book) describing the Lion as a big cats species. See, for example, the Wikipedia presentation about leopard
or the National Geographic pages
If you skim (read in diagonal) any these informative texts on felines, you can easily detect the same main themes: physical characteristics, subspecies, behaviours, habitat, and conservation status.
Consider the next example, about how to summarise a text describing a natural environment. The first table simply presents you the text. In the second table the text has highlighted elements, in order to show how emphasising words and sentences can make easier the summarisation process.
The Wikipedia of 136 words text at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savanna
A savannah is a grassland ecosystem characterised by the trees being sufficiently widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken layer consisting of grasses. Savannas maintain an open canopy despite a high tree density. It is often believed that savannas feature widely spaced, scattered trees. However, in many savannas, tree densities are higher and trees are more regularly spaced than in forests. The South American savannah have densities of trees similar to or higher than that found in South American tropical forests. Similarly, the Guinean and the Australian savannah have a tree density comparable with the forest in the region. Savannas are frequently in a transitional zone between forest and desert or grassland. Savannah covers approximately 20% of the Earth’s land area.
The text with highlighted elements
A savannah is a grassland ecosystem characterised by the trees being sufficiently widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken layer consisting of grasses. Savannas maintain an open canopy despite a high tree density. It is often believed that savannas feature widely spaced trees. However, in many savannas, tree densities are higher and trees are more regularly spaced than in forests. The South American savannah have densities of trees similar to or higher than that found in South American tropical forests. Similarly, the Guinean and the Eastern Australian savannas have a tree density comparable with the forest in the region. Savannas are frequently situated in a transitional zone between forest and desert. Savannah covers approximately 20% of the Earth’s land area.
Topic, main and supporting ideas
The main topic is: savannah
Main ideas in text are:
- Savannas are a grassland ecosystems.
- Savannas maintain an open canopy despite a high tree density.
- Savannas are in transitional zones between forest and desert or grassland.
Supporting ideas in text:
Savannas have trees density comparable with the forests in the region. (supports idea no 2)
Summary of the text (36 words)
Savannas are a grassland ecosystems. They maintain an open canopy with a tree density comparable with the forest in the region. Savannas often make a transition between forest and desert, and cover about 20% of the Earth land area.
The summary in table below has been completed after emphasising the topic (in magenta), the principal ideas, (marked in yellow) and the supporting details (in blue) in the original text. The comment written in red shows what is real important in this text – the main idea.
The text to summarise (192 words)
Lions are the most socially inclined of all wild felines, most of which remain quite solitary in nature. Lions are predatory carnivore with two types of social organisation.
Some lions are residents, living in groups of related lionesses, their mates, and offspring. Such a group is called a pride. Females form the stable social unit in a pride and do not tolerate outside females. Although extremely large prides, consisting of up to 30 individuals, have been observed, the average pride consists of five or six females, their cubs of both sexes, and one or two males. The males associated with a pride tend to mostly patrol their territory while lionesses do the hunting for their pride.
The second organisational behaviour is labelled nomads, who range widely and move about sporadically, either singularly or in pairs. The area a pride occupies is called a pride area, whereas that by a nomad lion is a range. Note that a lion may switch lifestyles; nomads may become residents and vice versa. Males, as a rule, live at least some portion of their lives as nomads, and some are never able to join another pride.
My Comment: Lion social behaviour – both types of social organisation should be mentioned.
The summary (73 words)
Lions manifest the most pronounced sociality in any felid species.
Lions can be residents in a pride – a social groups consisting one or two males, several females and their offspring. Lionesses form the stable unit among the residents of a pride.
Other social behaviour refers to nomads, – pairs or lions moving across a wide territory.
A lion can switch “social” status: he may become resident in a pride after being nomad.
Consider the well-known animated film “The Lion King“. You can easily develop a summary of this movie if you find out the answer for several guiding questions in the box below.
Guiding questions to summarise the “Lion King” movie
Who produced the movie and when?
The movie was produced 1994 by Walt Disney Studios.
What type of film is it?
It is an animated musical and adventure film.
Who plays the role of the main character?
The main character, Simba’s speaking voice is provided by several American actors and singers.
What story does this movie tell?
A Lion prince named Simba is born in Africa. His uncle Scar wants to become King and plots with the Hyenas to kill Simba and his father. The Lion King is killed and Simba is led to believe by Scar that it was his fault. Simba flees the kingdom in shame and lives in the desert. After years of exile, Simba returns home to overthrow the usurper and become the Lion King.
What are the similarities with other known fictional, or literary works?
The Lion King is a Disney original story inspired by the biblical Joseph and Moses stories and by the William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.
The summary of “Lion King” movie in 150 words
The movie “Lion King”, an animated musical and adventure film was produced 1994 by Disney Studios. Several well-known American artists and singers provided the Lion King speaking voice.
The movie tells the story of Simba, a lion prince born in Africa. But Simba’s uncle Scar wants to become a King, and plots with the Hyenas to kill Simba’s father. The King is killed and Simba is led to believe by Scar that it was his fault. Simba flees the Lion kingdom in shame. After years of exile in desert, Simba is returns home to overthrow the usurper and become the Lion King.
The Lion King original scenario was inspired by two biblical stories, Joseph’s and Moses’, and by the William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.
“Simba the Lion searches for his identity. His eagerness to please others and penchant for testing his boundaries gets him into trouble.”
– An anonymous comment on the Internet –
HOW to use frames in your summary
You can use “reminder phrases” or frames that remind readers or listeners your role: you are the “summariser” not the author of the material which is presented.
Suitable frames are highlighted in blue, while ideas are in yellow in article or a fictional work below.
The text to summarise (198 words)
For most people writing is an extremely difficult task if they are trying to grapple in their language with new ideas and new ways of looking at them. Sitting down to write can be an agonising experience, which doesn’t necessarily get easier with the passage of time and the accumulation of experience. For this reason you need to reflect upon and analyse your own reactions to the task of writing.
That is to say, the task will become more manageable if you learn how to cope with your own particular ways of avoiding or putting off the moment when you start writing … In general a routine, of regular writing times alone, seems to be one ingredient that is essential for many writers.
Even if nothing happens, it might be a good idea to allot a period of time in front of a pad or screen rather than rushing off to the internet, the library or your friends in search of inspiration. Most books on study skills recommend drawing up some kind of timetable for your work, and even the most arbitrary of rules can serve a useful purpose.
Gordon Taylor – A Student’s Writing Guide
(Cambridge Press – 2009)
The summary (65 words)
The author of the text stresses the difficulty of writing tasks, manifested in people the tendency to postpone them. In the author’s opinion, reflecting upon own reactions is the first step in dealing with writing avoidance.
Designated lone writing times, staying away of screen, library or Internet, together with a daily routine for study and work, are, in his vision, helpful to overcome tendencies to avoid writing.