Writing Effective Summary and Response Essays
A summary is a concise paraphrase of all the main ideas in an essay. It cites the author and the title (usually in the first sentence); it contains the essay's thesis and supporting ideas; it may use direct quotation of forceful or concise statements of the author's ideas; it will NOT usually cite the author's examples or supporting details unless they are central to the main idea. Most summaries present the major points in the order that the author made them and continually refer back to the article being summarized (i.e. "Damon argues that ..." or "Goodman also points out that ... "). The summary should take up no more than one-third the length of the work being summarized.
A response is a critique or evaluation of the author's essay. Unlike the summary, it is composed of YOUR opinions in relation to the article being summarized. It examines ideas that you agree or disagree with and identifies the essay's strengths and weaknesses in reasoning and logic, in quality of supporting examples, and in organization and style. A good response is persuasive; therefore, it should cite facts, examples, and personal experience that either refutes or supports the article you're responding to, depending on your stance.
Two Typical Organizational Formats for Summary/Response Essays:
1. Present the summary in a block of paragraphs, followed by the response in a block:
Summary (two to three paragraphs)
Agreement (or disagreement)
Disagreement (or agreement)
Note: Some essays will incorporate both agreement and disagreement in a response, but this is not mandatory.
2. Introduce the essay with a short paragraph that includes your thesis. Then, each body paragraph summarizes one point and responds to it, and a conclusion wraps the essay up.
Summary point one; agree/disagree
Summary point two; agree/disagree
Summary point three; agree/disagree
There are two basic types of summaries: a reader summary, that you compose to develop a better understanding of what you have read, or a summary essay, which is written for others and is an overview of an original text. The point of writing a summary essay is to convey an understanding of the essence of a source text to readers, without them having to read it in its entirety.
Steps for Writing a Summary Essay
- Thoroughly read and study the original text. When you read it, get a feeling for the author’s style, tone and mood, and try to identify the main ideas expressed.
- Divide the text into several sections, and sketch a rough outline. Breaking the text into several parts will make the material easier to grasp. Then read each part once more, but this time highlight some of the key points. Mark areas you want to refer to in your summary, as well as those that shouldn’t be included in your essay.
- When you have a clear understanding of the information in each part of the source, write down the main idea in each section in the form of a short overview.
- Write an introduction. It should briefly present the main ideas in the original text. The introduction should include the name of the author, the title of their work, and some background information about the author, if needed.
- In the main body paragraphs, state the ideas you’ve chosen while reading the text. Expand on them by including one or more examples from the original text. Include important information only and avoid describing minor, insignificant points.
- After you have summarized the main ideas in the original text, your essay is finished. A conclusion paragraph should be added if your teacher specifically tells you to include one.
Summary Essay Topics
You can write a summary essay on a scientific work, an interesting article, a novel, or a research paper. This type of essay can be on any subject. For example, you might want to write a summary essay on:
- Catcher in the Rye (book)
- Citizen Kane (film)
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (book)
- Captain Fantastic (film)
- Lord of the Rings (book)
- Song of Two Humans (film)
- Of Mice and Men (book)
- Mad Max: Fury Road (film)
- Moby Dick (book)
- Ben Hurr (film)
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
- A movie by Ingmar Bergman
- A novel by Jack London
- The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
- An article in The New York Times
- A blog post of a famous journalist
Key Points to Consider
- One of the most important aspects about a summary essay is its connection to the source. Keep in mind that your interpretation of the source can mislead your readers or even distort the meaning of the original text.
- Your summary essay should serve as a substitute for the original source; by reading your summary essay, a reader should be able to develop an understanding of the original work.
- This type of essay is about summarizing the original text, not criticizing it.
Do and Don’t
– Including too much or too little information in your essay.
– Forgetting to cite quotations, so that the words of the original texts’ author looks like your own.
– Concentrating on insignificant details, examples, and anecdotes.
– Trying to interpret or explain what the author wanted to say in his or her work. You must give a concise overview of the source, not present your own interpretation.
Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic summary essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our summary essay samples to link theory with practice.
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