Ways To Summarize An Essay

So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they've finished the essay.

The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.

To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:

  • Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
  • Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
  • Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.

To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the following:

  • Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point. For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James Joyce's short story collection, Dubliners, with information about Joyce's own complex feelings towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get the last word.
  • Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by linking it to a current news magazine program like 60 Minutes.
  • Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument. For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise ofdehumanization"; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist analysis is itself dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic -- rather than moral or ethical-- terms.
  • Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion). What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.

Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:

  • Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
  • Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up." These phrases can be useful--even welcome--in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.
  • Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your subject, you now know a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject, you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like, "this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."

Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

Writing the Summary Essay:

A summary essay should be organized so that others can understand the source or evaluate your comprehension of it.  The following format works well: 

Introduction (usually one paragraph)

1.    Contains a one-sentence thesis statement that sums up the main point of the source.
         This thesis statement is not your main point; it is the main point of your source. Usually, though, you have to write this statement rather than quote it from the source text.  It is a one-sentence summary of the entire text that your essay summarizes.

2.    Also introduces the text to be summarized:
            (i) Gives the title of the source (following the citation guidelines of whatever style sheet you are using);
            (ii)  Provides the name of the author of the source;
            (ii)  Sometimes also provides pertinent background information about the author of the source or about the text to be summarized.
The introduction should not offer your own opinions or evaluation of the text you are summarizing. 

Body (one or more paragraphs):
This paraphrases and condenses the original piece.  In your summary, be sure that you:

1.     Include important data but omit minor points;
2.     Include one or more of the author’s examples or illustrations (these will bring your summary to life);
3.     Do not include your own ideas, illustrations, metaphors, or interpretations.  Look 
            upon yourself as a summarizing machine; you are simply repeating what the source text says, in fewer words and in your own words.  But the fact that you are using your own words does not mean that you are including your own ideas. 

Conclusion

There is customarily no conclusion to a summary essay.


When you have summarized the source text, your summary essay is finished.  Do not add your own concluding paragraph unless your teacher specifically tells you to.


Characteristics:

–    Summaries identify the source of original text.

–    Summaries demonstrate your understanding of a text's subject matter.

–    Summaries are shorter (at least 60% shorter)  than the original text--they omit the original text's "examples, asides, analogies, and rhetorical strategies.

–    Summaries differ from paraphrases--paraphrases more closely follow the original text's presentation (they still use your words, but they are longer than summaries).

–    Summaries focus exclusively on the presentation of the writer's main ideas--they do not include your interpretations or opinions.

–    Summaries normally are written in your own words--they do not contain extended quotes or paraphrases.

–    Summaries rely on the use of standard signal phrases ("According to the author..."; "The author believes..."; etc.).

Tips on Writing Summaries

Step One (Prewriting):

Read the article quickly.

Try to get a sense of the article's general focus and content.

Step Two (Drafting):

Restate the article's thesis simply and in your own words.

Restate each paragraph's topic simply and in your own words.

Step Three (Revising):

Combine sentences in Step Two to form your summary; organize your summary sentences in the same order as the main ideas in the original text.

Edit very carefully for neatness and correctness.

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