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.