An effective reading strategy is important as you begin to summarise a text.
Such a reading strategy consists of at least three stages you should go through:
- BACKGROUND exploration before READING
- TEXT exploration during READING, which could comprise:
- SKIMMING the text.
- READING the text thoroughly.
- SEARCHING for meanings.
- TAKING notes annotation.
- NOTES’ revision and organisation after READING
Background exploration is the first stage in work of summarisation, when you search for information about the text: the author, the subject, the context and purpose of the writing.
Text exploration is the stage you read critically the text and try to identify, and prioritise: the main ideas or facts – for an expositive text-, or the most important event and characters, for a narrative writing.
Text exploration comprises of taking notes on content or annotate directly on pages.
Notes revision after READING, is the last stage in reading process, when you organise your notes and the (possible) use visual tools to express in graphic format your understandings on the text.
Before reading the text you need to summarise, explore the background of this work.
This could bring you useful information, that could be later included in your summary.
Several questions can help you in gathering information about the text:
- Who is the author of the text?
- What work by the same author have I already read?
- What is the main subject or theme of the text?
- What do I already know about this subject?
- What similar readings I have had in other courses? and
- Why did the teacher/instructor assign this reading?
(the most important questions you need to answer )
If you are not familiar or with the author either the text subject, try to find auxiliary information in a library or browse the Internet, check out Youtube or Wikipedia.
Text exploration means an effective reading process, when you should:
- skim the text.
- read the entire text straight through.
- search for most important information or elements in text.
- reread the text in an active manner: take notes and mark words and sections.
SKIMMING the text
Skimming means to read the text very quickly (diagonal reading). Skimming helps you to detect the important elements in that text. During skimming, pay attention to:
- titles, headings, subheadings in text.
- any bold, underlined, quoted, or highlighted text.
- pictures, graphs, charts, or images of any nature.
In skimming the text, you read only the first sentence on paragraphs.
Finally, try to find out the answer to the question:
What is the author talking about through this text?
READING the text thoroughly
After skimming the text, read the text straight through.
Try to understand meanings, to make connections and to identify the most important elements stated by the author:
- the topic and the main ideas or characters and events (for a narrative text).
- the supporting details for these ideas.
- the topic sentences and the concluding sentence, if they exist in the text.
SEARCHING for meaning and for structure
A topic is the word or the phrase that everything in a text refers back to.
The main idea in a text is the most important piece of information contained in that text. A supporting (secondary) idea is complementary to the main idea – it gives additional details about the main idea.
A main idea in a text includes: a topic and the principal statements about that topic. The main concept is often expressed in a sentence which is called a “topic sentence“.
The topic and the idea in a text
Examine the fragment of text below where both topics and ideas are highlighted.
“The Republic of Ireland occupies most of the island of Ireland, off the coast of England and Wales. Its capital, Dublin, is the birthplace of writers including Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. Nicknamed the “Emerald Isle” for its lush landscape of rolling green hills, it’s dotted with castles and ancient Celtic sites. Stories of warriors with all the knowledge of the world, and leprechauns hiding their gold at the end of a rainbow add to the mysterious appeal of Ireland.”
The topic in this text is Ireland and the main idea is: Ireland is a fairyland “on an emerald isle” and a country with exceptional rich cultural heritage and history.
The sequence of main ideas, ordered as they are presented in the text defines what we can call ” the discourse meaning“.
The discourse meaning is the “binder” of the ideas within the text.
The detailed discourse meaning contains the main ideas, and the supporting ideas.
Starting from the discourse meaning and some details extracted from the detailed discourse meaning it is possible to create the summary of the text.
If you want to extract and formulate the main idea, it is recommended to read the text while defining the sequences that contain distinct information regarding a certain single fact, event, action executed by one or more characters.
Then write this information in a single statement (a short sentence or phrase).
To extract and formulate a supporting (secondary) idea, you needs to read again the sequence of text from which you extracted the main idea. Try to identify details about the facts, events, action described by the main idea.
Then formulate the details about the main idea in one or more sentences.
A simple, effective method can help you to identify the topics and the most important ideas in the text you want to condense into a summary, is to formulate guiding questions with help of Who? What? When? Why:
- What are the major facts, events or characters described in text?
- What are the relationships between ideas, facts, characters, events in text?
- Why did the author state or express certain ideas in text?
- When did the text action take place?
- Where did the text action take place?
By answering a clear set of questions, you can to draft your summary.
Other important recommendations, when you are reading the text you want to summarise, is to search for the overall characteristics of the text:
- the text’s type : narrative, expositive, argumentative.
- the categories of information, if it exists in the text.
- the text structure: introduction, main body of information, conclusion ,etc.
Detecting a text type, categories and structure can give you a great help in detecting what is important in that text.
Categories of information in a text
The following text is about cougars. The texts is divided in paragraphs and the main categories of in formation in text are highlighted.
The cougar, also commonly known as the mountain lion, panther or puma, is a large felid native to the Americas. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in most American habitat types. It is the second-heaviest cat in the New World, after the jaguar. Secretive and largely solitary by nature, the cougar is probably considered both nocturnal and crepuscular, although sightings during daylight hours do occur. The cougar is an ambush predator and pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources are particularly deer, but also livestock. It also hunts species as small as insects and rodents. Cougar cat prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but can also live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and survives at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, and abundance of prey. Cougar is reclusive and avoids people. Fatal attacks on humans are rare, but in North America have been increasing in recent years as people enter their territories. Prolific hunting following European colonisation of the Americas and the ongoing human development of cougar habitat has caused populations to drop dramatically. In particular, the cougar was extirpated in eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century, except for an isolated Florida subpopulation.
Cougar geographical habitat
The cougar, also commonly known as the mountain lion, panther or puma, is a large felid native to the Americas. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in most American habitat types.
Cougar characteristics and behavior
Secretive and largely solitary by nature, the cougar is probably considered both nocturnal and crepuscular, although sightings during daylight hours do occur.
Cougar hunting habit
The cougar is an ambush predator and pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources are particularly deer, but also livestock. It also hunts species as small as insects and rodents.
Cougar’s habitat features
Cougar cat prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but can also live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and survives at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, and abundance of prey.
Cougar and humans
Cougar is reclusive and avoids people. Fatal attacks on humans are rare, but in North America have been increasing in recent years as people enter their territories.
Prolific hunting following European colonisation of the Americas and the ongoing human development of cougar habitat has caused populations to drop dramatically. In particular, the cougar was extirpated in eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century, except for an isolated Florida subpopulation.
Reread the text and analyse it. Then divide the text in sections (fragments, parts, paragraphs), annotate it (write comments on the margin of pages) and highlight sections in the original material, in order to emphasise.
- the topics and key words.
- main ideas, topic and concluding sentences.
- text type, texts’ categories of information and text’s structure.
Take notes on the following:
- the source (author–first/last name, title, date and place of publication, URL, etc.).
- the major ideas, facts, actions, events in text.
- the supporting explanations of main ideas (e.g. reasons/causes or effects).
Finally, outline the text, in order to create the skeleton of your summary. Write down the support points of each section in the outline you created.
If the text is short and fragmented, outline each paragraph (section) in the text.
All the methods and approaches recommended previously encourage you to perform “reflective reading”, the mandatory earlier stage to any attempt to summarise a text.
NOTES’ revision and organisation
After thoroughly reading the text, organise all your notes into an outline-sketch including the main ideas and the supporting points. Then, consider what to include or not include in your summary, in context of your assignment.
As a final step, you can use graphic tools to express your understandings of the text:
- use Mind maps to classify (in a radial hierarchy) the text’s elements: events, facts, characters, actions and ideas, in a radial hierarchy.
- use Concept maps to visualise relationships between ideas in text.
- use Outliners to structure and prioritise the elements of text.
- use Web to show different categories of related information in text.