Summary vs. Analysis (A Dynamic Duo)

Summary vs. Analysis (A Dynamic Duo)

If you’re feeling a little confused when you’re asked to create both a summary and analysis—you’re not alone. While these two tasks are very different, it’s easy to overlook the nuances that make them unique and useful. By mastering summary and analysis, you will develop essential writing and thinking skills that will help you excel in academic assignments and in the workforce.

So what is the difference between summary and analysis, and when should you use them?

The anatomy of summaries.

An effective summary does two things:

  1. It provides essential highlights of a text to your readers without trying to fully cover the original.
  2. The highlights that you present should have a purpose. In other words, your summary should focus on where you’re going to take your own ideas and analysis. Think of the summary as not only a condensed retelling—but also as setting the stage for what you’ll write about.

In a summary of an essay about eating healthy, for example, you want to mention the author’s main purpose for writing the essay, how they argue their points, and which points matter most. This last part is the perfect springboard for moving into your analysis of these essential points. By quickly explaining the writer’s use of argumentation and evidence, you can transition into your own arguments and evidence.

But don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Start simple by breaking your summary down with the 5 W’s (and How). From there, you can decide what’s most essential to summarize—and what moves to make next to start your analysis.

Remember that a good summary allows your readers to see the big picture in the same way that a map shows a traveler the general lay of the land without needing to actually make the trip.

The anatomy of analysis.

Most expository writing will ask you to move beyond summary and into analysis. This task involves breaking the work into its constituent parts. Here you are looking for meaning, purpose, or effect rather than the basic facts.

For an analysis of an essay, you might discuss the author’s rhetorical strategy, use of evidence, or purpose. You could also discuss the underlying assumptions the author makes and whether or not the essay is effective.

An effective analysis often explores the “why” of the text rather than focusing on the “what.” You want to ask questions about the author’s intentions and methods in order to provide your readers with a deeper understanding of the piece alongside your own take.

Putting summary and analysis together.

Here’s a quick example using the tips above:

In the article “Against Meat,” Jonathan Safran Foer provides a snapshot of his long personal history with food—covering family experiences, ideologies, and cultural practices centered on eating. With a dash of humor, he goes from telling his own story to highlighting important facts about how children eat and how our meat is produced in the United States. Overall, his main argument centers on the idea that we can change cultural practices by moralizing eating.

While there is a value in creating strong ethical and legal codes for how livestock are treated, in my view the moralization of eating leads to...

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