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How to ace a summary question

One of the most important aspects of the English language paper is summary writing. Today we want to focus on effective ways of writing a summary. Let me give you some guidelines on how you will go about it. I am going to furnish some broad technical as well as conceptual aspects of summary writing. I will explain the rudiments of summary writing through a practical example. I am going to furnish you an extract below. The extract focuses on why the hard or physical book is making a rebound. It focuses on the resurgence of the physical book and …

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One of the innovative ways the book entrepreneurs are putting into place to restore the physical book to its proper place is by hiring good engineers to recalibrate the space in the bookshelf and design it in such a very colourful and appealing way. There is also a way in which book stores are turned into cultural centres offering not just a shopping space bu “experience” too.
Let me propose a question which will help us to learn fine summary writing skills. Here is the question: “In view of the following text, how and why bookshops have had to change to attract customers?”

The summary questions want you to focus on “how” booksellers are making themselves attractive and the reasons for doing that. Notice the key word, “how”. The question wants you to demonstrate the strides taken by bookstores and booksellers to make their bookstores more colourful and attractive. Read the text closely focusing on the strides the bookstores are undertaking. As you write, be precise but elaborate, and do not lose sight of the requirements of the summary question in general. As you read the text you must pay attention to the thrust of the question, the “How” part.
Writing a summary requires one to be selective and elaborate. Focus on the text from which you need to draw the summary points from. Read closely and keep the instructional verbs in mind. In this summary the instructional verbs are “how” and “why”. I have already demonstrated above that “how” requires you to provide evidence on the procedure used to do something or to achieve an end. The “how” requires demonstration and elaboration. It requires you to show or demonstrate. And “why” requires you to give reasons. Let’s now read the extract below with these insights in mind.

“The rebirth of the bookshop”
This article explains how bookshops have changed in recent years.

Time was when bookshops appealed for being old-world and fusty with their confusing layouts, musty smells and eccentric proprietors. Now a new breed of bookshops is emerging. Luminous and spacious – the very opposite of the traditional bookstore.
Changing tastes in architecture and interior design are partly responsible for this trend, but so, too, are economics and new book-buying habits. Fierce competition from online retailers, cut-price supermarkets and e-books has seen the market for physical paper books dwindle, causing many bookshops to close, but booksellers are fighting back. One of their tactics is to hire cutting-edge architects to design shops with an alluring, contemporary feel to help attract customers day and night.
A case in point is Foyles bookshop, London, once famous for its quaintly chaotic warren of rooms with books piled up everywhere – not just on shelves but in nooks under tables. Last June, however, the mammoth store relocated. Interviewed recently, Foyles’ chief executive, Sam Husain, said that one reason why the shop moved was that its original layout was old-fashioned – ‘higgledy piggledy and inefficient’. By contrast, the new shop boasts 6.4 kilometres of orderly bookshelves and stocks over 200,000 titles. Its interior is clean-lined, minimalist and easy to navigate, geared to convenience in an age when customers are used to snapping up goods online at lightning speed. Customers can also use an in-store mobile search tool to see if the book is in stock and, if so, where. With the aid of an interactive map, the book can be located.

Another survival tactic for this new generation of bookshops is to operate as a cultural centre, not just a bookstore. To use that retail cliché, shops today must offer an ‘experience’ – not just a ‘shopportunity’ – if they are to succeed. According to retail expert Matthew Brown: ‘Shops have never been about buying stuff – we can get that online. We expect hospitality and service.’
Worldwide there’s an emergence of a new wave of bookstores – businesses which have diversified their product ranges, have increased their scope. Bookstores like Livraria Cultura in São Paolo also sell electronics, DVDs, toys and stationery, and they function as event and meeting spaces for book and product launches. Livraria Cultura boasts an exhibition space, conference area and garden café. It’s as much a see-and-be-seen hangout as a bookshop. White bookshelves incorporating LEDs, laminate surfaces and glass handrails on the staircases all contribute to the shop’s luminous, transparent feel. The shop also has two basement levels, with the lower one devoted to children’s books, and featuring a funky, rainbow-striped ramp providing access to shelves, and beanbags to recline on and read.
In short, bookshops are turning over a new leaf as they battle to survive in the internet age.”

Here we are! It’s quite an exciting read. Have you seen how the traditional and eccentric bookshop is now replaced by the new and alluring bookshop? So if we are to be precise, we could say that the modern bookshop is replacing the eccentric traditional bookshop by the building of colourful, state-of-the-art bookshops with their alluring and contemporary feel. Modern bookshops have also diversified- they are selling a vast array of other products – DVD’s, toys and stationery- besides selling books. There are new buying habits developing in the market and there is a growing appetite for physical books.

So, as we have shown, writing a good summary requires you to be precise but elaborate. You have to choose the appropriate points and express them with such economy

 Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to:

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