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05/23/2012

The Basics of Academic Writing, Part Two

In our previous academic post, we offered a definition of academic writing and introduced its four basic parts: summary, evaluation, analysis, and synthesis. Today’s post should help you understand how and when to use a summary in an academic paper.

The type of paper you’re writing will determine what kind of summary you need. If the assignment is a literary analysis, you’ll need to provide a brief summary of the story or book you’re analyzing. This summary most often appears in the introductory paragraph of your essay and mentions the work’s title, author, and main plot points. Keep the summary to no more than four or five sentences; there is no need to go into extensive detail here. Instead, cover only the most important points, making sure everything is in your own words. You would compose the same type of summary for a film or TV analysis. Place your thesis statement at the end of the summary.

You can do something similar for a paper in history or political science as well. If you’re discussing a particular battle of the Civil War, you can open with a short summary of the events and highlights of the battle, then state your thesis. A paper on election reform might begin with a summary of the 2000 Bush-Gore election controversy. A summary isn’t going to work every time for every paper, of course, but it’s actually a pretty easy option to pull out of your tool belt when you can.

You’ll need a different kind of summary for something like an argument or position paper. Depending on the topic, you could offer a summary of the positions for and against the issue, or sketch a historical overview of the topic. Again, this isn’t going to work for every paper; many issues are far too complex to summarize briefly this way. But for a topic like social media, which has a fairly short history, a summary could work.

In addition to providing necessary background information to your reader, a strong summary shows that you thoroughly understand your topic. This instills confidence in your audience and adds to your credibility as a writer. If you’re interested in developing your writing skills, learning how to craft a good summary is the best and easiest place to start.

Next up, evaluation! The good times are really rolling now, huh?

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