Summary or Report Writing
Typology:
written

written
written

oral
oral

written
oral

oral
Summary or Report Writing
The complexity of report writing increases when
language switching is involved, with the possibility of
a further four sub-types:
SL written

TL written
SL written

TL oral
SL oral

TL written
SL oral

TL oral
Source Texts
Written texts are usually more highly
structured than oral texts in terms of
informational organisation, as well as
linguistic and stylistic choices related to the
generally higher formality and tone of the
medium.
Oral texts, on the other hand, tend to be more
loosely structured in terms of information,
while the style and language used is typical of
less formal spoken discourse.
Source Texts
Generally speaking, in written texts, the more
careful organisation of the information is
often counter-balanced by linguistic as well as
stylistic complexity. In oral texts, an often
general lack of organisational coherence is
counter-balanced by linguistic and stylistic
simplicity, aided by a slow, pondered delivery,
as well as pauses and breaks in the oral
discourse while the speaker structures his or
her thought patterns.
Warning 1
Unfortunately, far too often, speeches and other
forms of oral discourse are pre-prepared. In
other words, they are completely or partially
written texts delivered orally. Only very
expert speech writers are able to write
speeches that maintain the characteristics of
oral discourse, such as simple syntax,
repetition, pauses and hesitations, all of which
facilitate comprehension when a text is
delivered orally.
Warning 2
Frequently, the oral text is simply a written
text read out loud, with all of its
linguistic/stylistic complexity. Written texts
when read are also often delivered much
faster than improvised oral texts,
particularly when there is an imposed time
limit. Even greater comprehension
difficulties are encountered if language
switching is involved, particularly for
those source languages that have highly
elaborate written forms.
Processing Strategies
Oral texts
listen process note organise write
Written texts
read process note organise write
Listening
It is extremely important to remember that
listening involves looking whenever the speech
is delivered “live” or through a visual
medium. Paralanguage communicates not
only through tone of the voice, pitch, loudness
versus softness etc., but also by means of
visual signals, such as hand movements,
gesture and stance, facial expressions like
smiling, sneering and frowning. All are
significant indicators of meaning and an
important aid to understanding the message
as it is being delivered.
Listening
The audio, non-visual media like the radio, tape
recordings etc. are more difficult to understand , as
obviously they do not have the visual paralinguistic
signals but only the vocal ones. It is nevertheless
quite possible and very useful to imagine the
speaker’s visual paralanguage on the basis of the
vocal paralinguistic signals. For example, it is quite
easy to hear and consequently visualise a sneer or to
“hear” a smile when something amusing is being
said. Therefore, you try to listen and see together.
Listening
code
Addresser
message

listening
Addressee
seeing
context
If actual seeing isn’t possible, then try to “see
in the mind’s eye” the visual paralanguage of
the speaker through the vocal paralanguage.
Reading
Always read a text TWICE before processing
it. The first reading is intended to give a
general understanding of or feeling for the
message. Identify the author’s position with
feelings of “positive”/“negative”, “pro”/“con”,
“ironical”/“serious”, “informative”/“opaque”
etc. The second reading is intended for the
reader to obtain fuller textual comprehension,
without resorting to processing the component
parts. Try to understand through contextual
deduction rather than analysing individual
words at this stage.
PROCESSING
Particularly when listening but also when
reading, note-taking is used NOT as a form of
shorthand with which a secretary reproduces
everything but as the RESULT of processing.
Decision making is going on all the time you
are listening or reading, processing what
information is to go into the report or
summary and what information should be left
out. The NOTE is simply a reminder of what
should go into the target text.
PROCESSING
listening
processing

note-taking

As the note is the result of processing, weak
notes are those that refer to items in the source
text that will not appear in the target text.
Strong notes are those that exclusively make up
the content of the summary/report.
LENGTH
Given that between 70% to 80% of a text of
average informational density is either
redundant information or shared or common
information, it follows that a high-density
report or summary of that text would not
normally be less than a fifth and not exceed a
third of the length of the source text. In fact, it
is usual for the reduction to be around 2530% of the original.
Ordering & Organisational Strategies
The ESP/EST text is considered to have
two kinds of paragraph: the normal
physical paragraph, identifiable through
the use of indentation or block spacing,
and the conceptual or virtual paragraph,
which may or may not correspond to the
physical paragraph and which contains
all the information a writer chooses to
give to develop a generalization.
When the main generalization or “core statement”
is developed in just one physical paragraph, we have
a one-to-one correspondence between the
conceptual paragraph and its physical counterpart.
E.g. As early as Ancient Sumeria, where all the buildings were
made of brick, it was a well-known fact that the walls had to be
very thick at the bottom in order that the lower layers of brick
should not be crushed by the weight of the upper layers. In this
way, there was a greater distribution of the weight of the
buildings over a greater number of bricks.
=
1 conceptual paragraph
More commonly, however, the complexity of the
concept is developed through an articulated physical
paragraph structure. The core statement or major
generalization is contained in one physical
paragraph, though it is developed through more
specific sub-divisions or “sub-ideas” that are each
contained in their own physical paragraphs and are
known as the minor generalisations. The conceptual
paragraph is always just one, consisting of the
major generalisation together with the minor ones
surrounding and developing it.
For example:
(paragraph 1) DDT is toxic because it is
absorbed into the body through the digestive
tract and lungs.
(paragraph 2) Its storage in the fatty
substances of organs acts as a biological
magnifier, multiplying the actual intake by a
hundredfold or more.
(paragraph 3) DDT is stored cumulatively in the
body, whereas it is only slowly excreted.
= 1 conceptual paragraph
THE RULE:
Whenever the information, be it a lowerlevel generalization or a higher degree of
specificity, supports the main generalization, it
all belongs to the same conceptual paragraph,
irrespective of the actual number of physical
paragraphs.
THE PROBLEM
How to identify the main generalization, before
moving on to the development of possible minor
generalizations or specific details.
As a rule, the main generalization is the most
general statement or idea in the conceptual
paragraph, which is normally referred to as the
Core Statement
i.e. the principal semantic element around
which all the minor generalizations and other
specific statements are made. The “core” is
often a single sentence but may also be as small
as a clause or may span several sentences or
parts of several sentences.
Sometimes the main concept or core cannot
be found as a statement but simply through
implication or deduction, in which case the
generalization is no longer called the core
statement but rather the
Core Idea
It is very important to remember that the
“core” may well be the first sentence of the
first physical paragraph, though this is by
no means the rule.
The fact that the core statement is not always
or is even rarely at the beginning of the
conceptual paragraph can be particularly
confusing for two reasons:
1. the focus of a reader’s or a listener’s
attention is often greater at the beginning
of a text.
2. We are often taught that the first sentence
is and should be the topic (or main
generalization) and that all the other
information in the paragraph supports the
first, topic sentence. This principle
however has little statistical support.
The following examples will show that the core can be
found just about anywhere in the physical paragraph
structure.
First Sentence
Soil physicists have characterized the drying of soil in three
stages. They are: the wet stage, where the evaporation is
determined by meteorological conditions; an intermediate or
drying stage, where the soil occurs in the wet stage early in the
day, but then dries off because there is not a sufficient amount of
water in the soil to meet the evaporation rate; and the dry stage,
where evaporation is solely determined by the molecular transfer
of water within the soil. There is a striking change in the
evaporation rate as the soil dries during the transition from the
wet stages to the drying stage.
This first example has the classic structure of
one-to-one physical/conceptual correspondence,
beginning with a one-sentence core statement,
supported by three minor generalizations, i.e.
three specific statements dependent on the core
generalization. Then the paragraph concludes
with a further minor generalization, that is the
least related to the core, almost incidentally.
This structure may be schematized as follows:
Core Statement (1st Sentence)  Specific
Statement (2nd Sentence)  Specific Statement
(3RD Sentence)  Specific Statement (4th
Sentence)  Specific Statement (Conclusion)
An example of a core statement in the second sentence
but still preceding supporting information is to be
found in the DDT text:
This understandable misconception arises from the fact that unlike other chlorinated hydrocarbons - DDT in powder form is
not readily absorbed through the skin. Dissolved in oil, as it
usually is, DDT is definitely toxic. If swallowed it is absorbed
through the digestive tract; it may also be absorbed through the
lungs. Once it has entered the body, it is stored largely in organs
rich in fatty substances (because DDT itself is fat-soluble), such
as adrenals, testes or the thyroid. Relatively large amounts are
deposited in the liver, kidneys and the fat of the large, protective
mesenteries that enfold the intestines.
This physical paragraph has the core statement in the
second sentence, as the first sentence has the function
of being a transitory link with the previous conceptual
paragraph, with the previous core statement. This time
however there is not a one-to-one correspondence
between the conceptual and physical paragraphs but
one-to-three, in that there are a further two physical
paragraphs that go on to make specific informational
statements about the core, about the toxicity of DDT.
A structure that has the core generalization at or near
the beginning of the conceptual paragraph, thus
preceding most or all of the supporting information, is
called the DEDUCTIVE PARAGRAPH
A structure that is common, especially in peer writing,
has the supporting information preceding the
generalization. Here, the core statement is towards the
end, more often than not to be found in the last or
penultimate sentence of the conceptual paragraph.
This structure is known as the INDUCTIVE
PARAGRAPH, of which the Ancient Sumeria text is a
fine example:
So, in order to have buildings hundreds of feet high, modern
architects and engineers had first to solve the problem of weight
distribution so as to avoid having the walls at the bottom as thick
as they were high. Initially, the problem was solved in part
through the use of iron beams, though the weight of the floors
was still carried by the walls.
Then a way was found to make the whole framework of a
building out of beams of steel riveted together, rather like the
skeleton of a human body to which the flesh and skin are
added later. So too are the walls, floors, doors and windows
placed onto the steel skeleton of the building so that none of
the weight of the frame rests on the building's walls.
The steel skeleton is rock solid, being sunk deep into the
ground beneath it, with the foot of every single pier embedded
in concrete. The stone or brick or tile with which this steel
frame is covered is just a kind of skin to keep out bad weather
and add beauty.
Nowadays, there is virtually no limit to a building’s height.
Its weight resistance has been further increased by ......
Here, the core statement is right at the end of the
conceptual paragraph, that is to say the first
sentence of the final physical paragraph.
Induction occurs when a conclusion is drawn
following a series of premises, of specifications or
minor generalisations. This is exactly what
happens in the Sumeria text, even though there is
a sort of deductive pre-announcement or
prediction of the core statement right at the very
beginning. In fact, there is a clear link between
the introductory physical paragraph and the
concluding one, clearly showing the one-ness, the
organic unit of the conceptual structure.
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
Textual reduction, whether oral or written, is
a question of decision-making strategies, the
two modes differing only in the speed of the
decision-making process. In orally delivered
source texts, the decisions are usually made
instanteously, although the listener’s memory
serves too in making strategic adjustments if
an initial decision has to be reviewed or in
some way altered.
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
Warning:
For written source texts, the temporal aspect is
less pressing, more time may be given to the
decision-making process, though time is
notoriously elusive, often making you believe
you have more than you actually have. The big
and often time-consuming question is what is to
be eliminated and how can the text be reduced
to a minimum. What exactly may be considered
expendable or redundant in a source text that
may then be eliminated from the target text?
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
What may be considered expendable or redundant in
the source text that should be eliminated from the
target text?
Shared or old
Redundant information
common
secondary
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
By shared information, we mean understanding that
is commonly shared between the addresser and
addressee, in that the topic or theme has already
been brought up in the previous discourse, the
information has already been given elsewhere in
the text.
For example, “as we have already said, it wasn’t until
just before the outbreak of World War II that Paul
Muller from Basel in Switzerland discovered DDT’s
properties as an insecticide, for which he won the
Nobel Prize.”
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
Examples, paraphrases and other forms of illustrating
or mentioning what has been said earlier in the text
all fall into this category.
By common information, on the other hand, we mean
that extra-textual or contextual information that we
presume addresser and addressee share. For
instance, knowledge of the world or the subjectmatter being dealt with. An example of this is “from
Basel in Switzerland” which illustrates common
knowledge of the world that we would presume is
shared between addresser and addressee.
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
Warning: knowledge of the world may not
always be shared, especially if writing for
young people. Common knowledge between
peers would clearly be much more technical
than between a specialist and a learner. For
example, what DDT stands for in the phrase
“DDT (short for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane)” may well be common knowledge in
peer writing but certainly is not further down
the scale. Here it would become subject to
reduction if considered of minor importance,
included if judged to be primary information.
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
Reducing textually- as well as contextuallyshared information, however, is not sufficient.
Secondary or minor information should be
eliminated as well, by which we mean all of
that information, even though unshared, that
is deemed irrelevant or of little relevance to
the objectives of the report or the subjectmatter of the summary. This is the crucial
part of the decision-making process and
certainly the most subjective, as divergent
opinions on the relevance of information are
common.
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
For example, we have already seen the question
of what DDT stands for and its importance is
very open to personal interpretation. Another
example is in the same sentence “DDT (short
for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane) was
first synthesised by a German chemist in
1874, but its properties as an insecticide were
not discovered until 1939”, in which we must
decide whether the date DDT came into being
and the fact it was a nameless German who
created it is of primary importance to a
report or summary on insecticides.
REDUCTION STRATEGIES
Figures, numbers and formulae generally come
into this category. Whenever a simplification is
required, a reduction from technical to nontechnical, from peer-writing to a lower rank,
then figures and formulae should become a
simple interpretation of them. Consequently, a
very precise observation like “The fatty storage
depots act as biological magnifiers, so that an
intake of as little as 1/10th of 1 part per million
in the diet results in storage as about 10 to 15
parts per million, an increase of more than one
hundredfold” may well be considered of minor
relevance compared to a generic description.
ORGANISING AND WRITING
Clearly, the information ordering and
structuring need not and indeed rarely do
correspond to that of the source text. What
may have been a complete paragraph in the
original may become but a few words in the
target text and thus would need to be
incorporated in a different paragraph. Indeed,
most classroom texts would become just one
single paragraph of around a hundred to one
hundred and fifty words, given that an average
printed page or 3-minute speech would be
around about 400-500 words.
ORGANISING AND WRITING
Information ordering may well be different in
the target text too, as information at the start
of a source text may well fit in better at the
end of a target text and vice versa. Only very
long texts or speeches would have a paragraph
structure in the target text. Introductions
often tend to disappear, especially when they
have a rhetorical rather than informational
function. Conclusions are always of utmost
importance. The conclusion may well be the
reported conclusion of the original speaker,
writer or report writer - depending on the
function of the report.
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Summary or Report Writing