6 Summary vs. Analysis

Dr. Sandi Van Lieu

In your classes, you may be asked to analyze text. Analysis is not simply summary—summary gives the reader a shortened overview of the topic.

Summary

A summary would be telling the reader what happened in the story. Take for example, summaries about the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson:

Example 1 Summary:

“The Lottery” is about a town that comes together every year for a tradition. The town’s people draw a name, and the person’s whose name is drawn is killed by everyone else.

Example 2 Summary:

The black box in “The Lottery” is used to hold slips of paper with the names of the townspeople. It is old and splintered, and every year the townspeople talk about replacing the box, but no one wants to break tradition.

The examples above tell us what the story is about. They present facts, but they are not arguments.

Analysis

In your courses, you’ll be asked do higher-level thinking. Summary, which gives a brief overview of the main points, is a lower level of thinking. Using analysis and evaluation are higher levels of thinking. Analysis is when you break down something (in this case, breaking down the story) into parts in order to see how they relate.

Evaluation is to make a judgment about something based on evidence. Analysis and evaluation go above and beyond summary to explain, examine, and tell us what you think or what you believe about the text or topic. They give arguments. Take, for example, the same above summaries about “The Lottery,” but revised to show analytical thinking:

Example 1

“The Lottery,” a fiction story by Shirley Jackson, was written to portray the point that tradition often overtakes reason, and humans sometimes stick to traditions that are outdated or irrelevant simply because they don’t want to make changes.

Example 2

The black box in “The Lottery” is symbolic of death and of tradition. It is the color black, which is the color to represent death, it is old and splintery, and it holds the names of the townspeople, one of whom will be chosen to die. In addition, the text says, “Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box” (Jackson, par. 5). The black box is symbolic not just about death, but it also represents tradition and how some people want to change it but can’t overpower the majority who insist tradition remain.

The above examples don’t just give facts; they make arguments about the text. The second example breaks down the symbol of the black box and makes arguments about what it represents.

Using Analysis for Arguments and Support

Each body paragraph of an essay should include analysis. When you’re revising your essay, look at each individual body paragraph and ask yourself: Am I simply re-telling the story/text and giving facts, or am I making an argument about the story?

In addition to having analysis in each body paragraph, you should also include support. You can tell me that “The Lottery” is an argument for breaking traditions, but I need to “see” that—you have to prove it to me. This is where using the text and outside sources as quotes, paraphrases, and summaries will come in.

Exercise 1

Find a passage of something you have read for a college course—an article, a story, a textbook pages, etc. Then do the following:

1. Read the passage. Then without looking at it, write a summary of it.

2. Now, make an argument in the form of analysis  or evaluation of the passage.

Additional Resources:


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  • “Summary vs. Analysis,” created by Dr. Sandi Van Lieu and licensed under CC BY NC SA 3.0.

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The RoughWriter's Guide by Dr. Sandi Van Lieu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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