Summaries, Analyses, and Responses
In order to write well, you need to practice good reading skills. You can’t expect to understand something just by glancing over it once. You need to read it once to get the general sense of the article, and then read it again more carefully, looking for the main point and the key supporting points. By reading it a third or even a fourth time you should be able to develop a very good sense of the author’s intention and method of supporting his or her main ideas to effectively get the message across.
A thorough and complete reading will enable you to do several things with the article: you’ll be able to summarize the article, you’ll be aware of the author’s intended audience and purpose, you’ll make your own personal connections to the article, you’ll be able to organize it yourself and consider the strength or value or even the weaknesses of the article. You’ll also be able to consider using the author’s work to support your own ideas.
Your entire class may be assigned to read the same article. We’ll use a sample article for this exercise so you can get the hang of the SAR. Read the article with the intention of actually understanding it and connecting to it. For example, all of us tend to do more than one thing at a time. It’s called multi-tasking, and depending on what combination of tasks you’re doing, it may be effective or it may not. Alina Tugend discusses the dangers of multi-tasking in an article she wrote for the New York Times. You can practice summarizing and responding and analyzing Tugend’s article in this section. Then, when you do your own research for a project for class, you’ll know how to go about the same process. Tugend’s article is found here: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/featured_articles/20081029wednesday.html
Read the article with an open mind. You’ll come to it, of course, with some sense of understanding of multi-tasking. You may consider yourself an excellent multi-tasker, or you may think you’re lousy at it. It’s ok. Just read the article.
You’ll have an opinion, of course, but leave that opinion aside for right now. You’ll be able to express it later. You want to construct a Summary of the article before you write a reaction to it.
Here are a few things to consider as you read through the article:
- What’s the initial hook?
- How does the intro shift into the body?
- How is the body organized?
- What connections are made?
- How does the conclusion look back to the introduction
- Is the take-away worth the wait?
How are you drawn into the article? Is it by the title? Does the opening sentence attract you? Is there a photo or graphic that draws your eye? What catches your attention?
Getting hooked isn’t enough. Once the author has introduced the topic, a shift occurs. The writer must develop the thesis and draw you further into the body of the article. Do you stay hooked or do you quickly lose interest? If you’ve lost interest, what happened? If you stay hooked, what’s going on?
Good fishermen bait their hooks with a fat worm dangling enticingly. And once a fish grabs on, that worm had better have some content to it or the fish will try to get rid of it. We can take this analogy only so far, because if you’re a fish, you’re caught and doomed to the frying pan. Instead, you as a reader have a choice: go for the bait and hang on for the duration, or move to the next article and check out its content. How is the article organized? Does the writer move clearly from one point to another, building on that initial enticing hook by stating the main ideas to you, and then developing each of those main ideas with strong examples and details?
A fish isn’t very discerning, and never having eaten a worm, I can’t discuss the attributes one worm may have over another, but we all get hungry and we all want to eat. So let’s see the organization of an article from the perspective of a meal in a restaurant: the hook is what gets you into the restaurant, and the shift is the focus on the menu. If you find what you want, you expect to be fed, right? Now the food comes to the table. If dessert comes first, and the steak comes before the soup or salad, obviously something’s wrong with the organization. But if everything comes in the order as expected (as indicated on the menu), but the vegetables are cold or flavorless and the steak is tough, you know you made the wrong choice. Finally, if the server doesn’t pay attention to your needs, everyone who knows you learns why you won’t be back at the restaurant again.
How is your article organized? Since we’re using Tugend’s article throughout these samples, consider how she delivers each point to her readers. It’s your job to look for the delivery, but since you’ve already summarized the article, you know the main points being made and you know how those points are delivered to the reader in the topic sentences or focal points. What follows are details that connect the unfamiliar to the familiar in the mind of the reader.
The author develops her ideas and connects them to her thesis by using strong sources. She makes a point, and then delivers it neatly on a serving plate with source support and details. Her point is strengthened not just by her own ideas but by the way she incorporates the ideas of others. When we use sources to strengthen our ideas, we help our readers understand. Tugend does this effectively with her sources, and you can write effectively if you use your sources well. When you analyze an article, be sure to check for the author’s effective use of source support.
The short version of this comes from the 12th-century philosophy Bernard of Chartres, who claimed that we see further by “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Everyone from Sir Isaac Newton to George Santayana has said this. In fact, an old country song contains a lyric about getting out of a pick-up truck in West Texas, standing on a can of tuna, and seeing for hundreds of miles. Consider this a good way to remind you to use sources!
A strong conclusion should never bring in new material, but should instead remind the reader of where the idea began and suggest where it should lead. Tugend doesn’t just leave the reader with a wealth of details gleaned from credible sources. Tugend tells the reader that multi-tasking can only be effective if it is done in ways that support the task. She draws the reader into her conclusion by stating “So the next time…..” as a reminder that we all fall into the pit of multi-tasking, but we can pull ourselves up by reminding ourselves of those very things that have been expressed throughout the entire article. The conclusion brings effective closure to the article. It doesn’t start a new point, but it draws the article to a close. Check out “conclude” in a thesaurus. You’ll find some good synonyms for the word, including “put to bed” and “bring down the curtain.” Get the picture? End. Finale. Finito. The party’s over. Don’t come back.
If the party is over, was it a good party? Was it worth attending? Was it memorable? Will you talk about it later? The best take-away for any article you read is to be able to use some of the material yourself in your own writing. Make your own point, using the words of the author you read. Stand on some shoulders, will you? That’s what those giants are there for, after all.
- Find something interesting to read
- Read it carefully
- Highlight the main points
- Create an outline
- Verify the author’s credibility
- Determine who the intended reading audience is
- Write about each point in your own words
Read the article all the way through. Set it aside and think about it. Then read it again. This time, using a pen or highlighter, underline the main points in each paragraph. Focus on what Tugend is telling her reader in each paragraph.
Once you’ve highlighted or underlined the main points of each paragraph, copy those sentences onto paper. You’ll be making list of the focus of each paragraph.
Then look at your list. You’ll notice that the points follow some kind of order. Tugend may connect several points together in a few paragraphs. Circle or block together those points that seem to connect to each other. What’s the overall thrust of each group of paragraphs? Her overall thrust is a major point for that part of the article. Give that block of points a title. This is one main point of the article.
As you do this, you’ll notice that your grouping begins to look like an outline of sorts. It is. You’ve just outlined Tugend’s article. The main points are used as a standard to then provide the details and examples that are shown in the paragraphs of Tugend’s article. If you were to make a presentation on multi-tasking in a public speaking class, you could use her article alone to inform your audience of multi-tasking. Don’t do this, though. Repeating someone else’s ideas without including your own or giving credit is, of course, plagiarism. And you don’t want the plagiarism beast to follow you around. It’s nasty.
So, you’ve got an outline. This is the first step to creating a summary. From here on, it’s easy sailing!
Since summaries are often used in research writing, always check out the author. For a start, Google the author’s name. You’ll learn about the author’s credibility, professional work, and publications. A summary should provide a brief overview of the author. “Alina Tugend is a columnist for the New York times” is a good way to start, but you’ll be able to add a little more information about her in your own summary. You can state the name of the article and when and where it was published as well.
Do some leg-work. Find out what you can about the author. Who is she and what has she written and where has she been published? Is the publication in which she has written a credible venue – is it a respected and responsible journal or book publisher, based on its own publication history? What makes the author qualified to write about the topic she has chosen? Alina Tugend wouldn’t be considered “an expert multi-tasker,” but she does have the backing of the New York Times. As a columnist for that world-renowned newspaper she has no doubt established herself over a period of years as one who can clearly identify a subject, research it thoroughly, write with clarity to a selected group of people, and connect with that audience on a level that makes people want to read her column. Since she has other publishing credits, she is known by the publishing community and is respected by her peers. She is considered a trustworthy source of information. And the New York Times is no fly-by-night scrap of yellow journalism; it was founded in 1851 and has published almost 60,000 issues for over 160 years. Its readership is worldwide. You can examine The New York Times digital edition at http://www.nytimes.com/ .
Who is likely to read the article in question? Consider the demographics of the intended reader: age level, educational level, family/work/responsibility/profession interests. Do you think that the audience likely to be made up of people who are open or closed to new information and ideas or are settled with the ideas they currently have? What makes you think this? Check out the language used: the terminology being used, the complexity or simplicity of sentence structure, the length of the article and the main focus. What readers are most likely to be interested in the article?
Write about each point
Look back at the outline you’ve created and the author and audience information. What is the topic of the article? State it in your own words. What is the author’s main purpose in writing this? Why is it important to her? What’s her “thesis point”? Her thesis connects to the overall point of the article. Next, identify those main points that you titled in your outline. A summary briefly lists the author’s main points. Finally, examine the conclusion. What is the take-away the author provides to the reader?
A summary leaves your own ideas out and merely identifies the author’s thesis and purpose and main points.
An Analysis is quite different from a Summary. In order to analyze an article you will reflect on those things you did for the summary, including the following:
- The author’s credibility and the credibility of the publication, and
- The intended audience
The Analysis takes into account other details about the article you’re studying. In an analysis, you move from making note of credibility and audience to figuring out particulars of the essay. These particulars include the following. You should be able to:
- Comment on the author’s effective (or not) use of source material,
- Determine whether or not the author has been able to demonstrate or share multiple perspectives or views on the topic, and
- Consider whether or not the article adds to the body of current knowledge on the topic. This is based on research you may be doing on the topic and your experience with that body of research.
Be reminded that you have already examined the following in your Summary. Now, in the Analysis, you’ll develop your ideas more thoroughly.
Your Analysis should examine the article from your own perspective. You’re not merely summarizing; you’re connecting to the article. You’ll examine these points in detail, but you’ll only need to make brief responses to each in writing. An Analysis need not be long, and it need not focus on each part equally. These points are provided, because they are all of value, but as you gain expertise in analyzing the words of others you’ll learn to focus in on the most essential elements of an analysis for the sake of your own purpose.
For example, if you’re reading a work by a well-known author whose list of publishing credits is extensive, you may assume the credibility of the author. If the article is specifically written to a particular group that is identified, you don’t need to analyze the audience. If the sources are well-documented and extensive, then you may not need to go over them with a magnifying glass!
You must be able to clearly connect to the author’s thesis and main points and you must be able to explain those points so you can share what you’ve read with others.
Use of Sources
Has the author used sources to support her ideas? What types of sources have been used? Where were the sources published? Are those publications reliable? You need to look back and see what information was gathered and how it was used to support the point the author is making. Is the author using the source material as it was originally intended, or has she twisted or misshaped the material to suit herself? In popular publications (newspapers and magazines) the writer provides in-text information about sources. In academic and professional writing (journals and books) an MLA Works Cited, an APA References, or a bibliography list is provided at the end of an article or book.
Does the author strive to inform or persuade using a variety of views and positions? Recognizing that there is no single correct solution to almost any problem, credible writers will share multiple viewpoints in order to open the readers’ eyes to the many ways of seeing an issue, and then focus in on what the author feels is the most effective way of considering a solution to the problem. An author often shows multiple perspectives by stating, “Some people argue…. while other….” “One view holds …. Another writer suggests ….” “By examining the varied positions held by others we can see that ….”
Having carefully studied the author’s own credibility and connection to audience, as well as her thesis, main points, perspective, and use of sources, you must finally determine whether or not the article adds significantly to your own understanding of the topic. Does it also contribute to the body of information available on this topic? If the article merely rehashes the ideas of one or two people without using those ideas to see the issue from another perspective, then perhaps the article has not contributed to the body of work currently available. In the long run, if no contribution has been made, then the article will fall by the wayside.
You’ve summarized an article, you’ve carefully analyzed the article, and now you must respond to the article. Tugend’s own article is in response to her sources. When you research a topic for the sake of writing a research paper, you must develop your own thesis based on your original idea and the source materials that you have read in connection with your idea. You work together with those sources to bring your ideas to the table in a new way. In responding to sources, you:
- Support your ideas with facts from those sources
- Make sure you haven’t changed the source’s original purpose
Imagine you have all of your sources around a table. You start the conversation by posing your original idea. You may ask your sources to share their perspective on the idea. Each one does. Some agree with each other; some disagree; some argue with each other. You listen and you take it all in and you decide what you’re going to do. Should you change your original idea? Maybe you were asking the wrong thing. Or maybe you need to qualify your original idea. Your original thesis may need some tweaking, based on what your sources have to say.
Based on your own purpose for writing to the audience most appropriate, you’ll respond to those sources around the table. “Mr. So-And-So, you state this …. But if I’m to implement this then certain things need to happen. Ms. Know-It-All suggests this …. So if we combine these two factors, then what I’m proposing should work. I think Dr. Ya-Da-Ya-Da tried that already, or something similar. If it worked for him in his situation, then it should work for me.”
You see, it’s fairly simple to respond if you think of your single source as being face-to-face with you. Respond to each source separately. Then group them together and consider how you’ll make use of them. Tugend undoubtedly interviewed each of her sources or read articles from each source, thought about them in relation to her thesis, and then incorporated their ideas into hers in order to strengthen her own thesis. The result was an article that would appeal to people who may be frustrated with the issue of multi-tasking.
Put it all together!
A very simple combination of the SAR is the annotated bibliography. This is usually a separate assignment for a research project, but it’s a good idea to mention it here, because annotations use all three parts of the SAR in brief form. Those annotations can remind you of the good sources you found.
When you read a source that you may want to use in a research project, you must summarize it, analyze it, and respond to it. This can be done in a three-paragraph annotation, which includes the following:
- Full documentation of source
- One paragraph summary of the source’s thesis and main points.
- A second paragraph states how you might connect particular points made by the author to your own understanding of the argument situation that you are addressing.
- A third paragraph should state how you may be able to use specific things from the source to support a point you will be making in your paper.