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
“The Year that Changed Everything" is a definition essay is written in a classical style which attempts to persuade the audience to accept the author’s conclusion that 1948 was an important year. The author backs this claim up with three main sub-claims which show how this year was important in the lives of three future Presidents: Nixon, Kennedy, and Johnson. Furthermore, he links these presidents and this year by claiming that all of them were involved in either uncovering or covering up secrets.In paragraph 7, he claims that these dramatic secrets were an emblem of this era, which exemplified the uneasiness of Americans about who they were. He gives more examples of secrets in paragraph 8 and examples of great changes in paragraph 9. Morrow concludes with his major thesis that 1948 was a year when three future presidents encountered “formative ordeals” which propelled them toward their presidency but also toward tragedy.
The audience for this article is educated, people.The author expects people to not only understand his references to the Kinsey report, DDT, and Silent Spring but also to be able to deduce how these support his thesis.While dropping these references and allowing the audience to inductively understand his points may be effective for those who lived through this historical period, it makes the article less effective for younger people who, for example, don’t have memories about DDT nor remember pictures about what it did to birds and animals. The author attempts to establish common ground through historical references but these may not be effective for those who don’t know them. What also limits the effectiveness of the article is the fact that the author does not explain how his examples relate to his thesis.The logical connections between his examples are also sometimes weak. Does Nixon’s involvement in uncovering the Hiss case really compare clearly to Kennedy’s cover-up of his medical history and Johnson’s cover-up of his dirty politics?
What is effective about the essay is that it causes the reader to think differently about what sorts of events should be considered important and it also makes the reader think about the connections between personal decisions and political events.