Summary Essay Assignment English Composition


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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. This type of essay is about summarizing the original text, not criticizing it.

Do and Don’t

Do
  • Do cite the author’s words if you need to use them. Otherwise, it may look like plagiarism.
  • Do write in present tense, even if the author of the original text has passed away a long time ago.
  • Do understand the original source completely. If you have doubts about the meaning of certain terms, clarify them before you start to write.
  • Do make sure you’ve said exactly what the author did when citing their words.
  • Do revise your paper when it’s ready. You may find a nice place to insert a new quotation, correct some mistakes, and make other improvements. You can also give your essay to a friend or a colleague to read to see if they can grasp the main idea of the source after reading your summary essay.
Don’t
  • Don’t include your own examples or interpretations in your paper. You literally need to repeat the information given in the original text, but in a shorter frame and in your own words.
  • Don’t insert any of your evaluations or judgments about the text. Your task is to summarize, not give a personal opinion.
  • Don’t try to grasp all of the ideas contained in the original text in your essay. Focus only on the most important points.
  • Don’t report on unnecessary details.
  • Don’t forget to include transitions to signal when you move to a new idea within the same paragraph.

Common Mistakes

– 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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Samples for Writing a Summary Essay

"1984" by George Orwell

“1984” is a novel about totalitarianism and the fate of a single man who tried to escape from an overwhelming political regime....

Nemesis by Philip Roth

By Miguel Fernandes Ceia The blurb on the dust cover of Philip Roth’s Nemesis is pretty accurate, ‘a terrifying epidemic is raging’, ‘focusing on [Bucky] Cantor’s dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground—and the realities he faces�...

"Three Comrades" by E. M. Remarque

Three Comrades, written by German writer Erich Maria Remarque, is one of the ...

Objective

NOTE: As I explained by email, you are free to choose your own academic article for this assignment. Use the library databases to find a substitute reading for the basis of your summary and review. Please include a link to the article you choose as a replacement reading. I need to read the article too in order to evaluate your summary and review.

et's begin by exploring the nature of reading, writing and literacy itself. The core of this first writing assignment, composing a summar and review, appears commonly in academic writing. This writing assignment will require that you read and think critically as you prepare your assignment.

n this chapter from The Gutenberg Elegies, Sven Birkerts presents the conflict between the literacy of the past and the electronic literacy of the future. This conflict played an important part in the formation of Birkerts's notions of literacy and writing. Your objective in this first piece of writing is to compose a summary and review of Birkerts's argument.

Audience

he audience is your classmates and me: think of how you want to share your ideas and beliefs with us. Think of how you want to convince us of your prespective (your thesis) on the subject Birkerts presents. After your summary, you want to give us your main idea, your reaction/main thought, to Birkerts' ideas in the chapter. Then you want to provide us some details to show us, explain for us, or convince us of your thesis.

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