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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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5.3 Writing a longer summary

When writing a longer summary, it is still necessary to use the 5Rs. However, because the summary is longer, it is also important to change the organisation. Academic texts are usually well organised, but when you write a summary you have to decide whether your summary will have the same organisation as the original text or not. This depends on your purpose.

While focusing on the way the summary is written, there is a risk of missing out or misinterpreting key information. When summarising a text, it is therefore important to follow the following process:

  1. Read the original.
  2. Make some notes.
  3. Summarise following the 5Rs.

The notes must correctly report the content of the original text as, if they contain errors, the summary will be incorrect too.

Activity 10

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Look at the text below about HIV/AIDS, the two sets of notes on it and the two summaries. Compare the summaries with the original text. Which summary is the better one? Say why, bearing in mind the 5Rs and summary organisation.

Original paragraph

The HIV/AIDS epidemic threatens people in every part of the world. For example, it destroys the health, and lives, of millions of people. It also shatters families and communities and leaves millions of children orphaned. It undermines whole countries by robbing them of the young, able-bodied people needed to work in industry and agriculture. It ravages entire continents. While sub-Saharan Africa (the area of Africa south of the Sahara desert) has about ten per cent of the world’s population, it has almost two-thirds of all people living with HIV (UNAIDS, 2004). (91 words)

Notes 1

  • HIV/AIDS threat to people everywhere
  • health and life destroyed
  • families and communities destroyed
  • children orphaned
  • countries robbed of young workers for industry and agriculture
  • continents ravaged, e.g. sub-Saharan Africa, where the population is more heavily affected by HIV/AIDS

Summary 1

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a threat to people everywhere, destroying the lives of families and communities. Young children lose their parents, and there is a lack of healthy young workers for industry and agriculture, which affects economies. In some parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, a higher proportion of the population is affected by HIV/AIDS. (58 words)

Notes 2

  • HIV/AIDS tragedy
  • young people are robbed
  • two-thirds of African people have AIDS

Summary 2

The HIV/AIDS virus is causing terrible tragedies throughout Africa where two-thirds of the population are suffering from this dreadful disease. Young people are being robbed of their futures, and it is up to the rest of the world to help them. (42 words)

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Summary 1 is the better summary because:

  • it reproduces all the main points of the original text, without leaving out any of the key points;
  • it rewords the original text in the student’s own words, e.g. a higher proportion of the population rather than two-thirds;
  • it is well organised.

Summary 2 is a poor summary because:

  • it does not reject the right information from the original – it mentions only Africa, not the rest of the world – and fails to make the relevant point about young people, i.e. their connection to the labour market;
  • it does not reproduce the original text but gives the student’s own opinion – it is up to the rest of the world to help them.


There is a connection between good note making and good summary writing. If your notes are clear, brief and accurate, your summary is likely to be well organised.