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Ron Cooley, English Faculty

Avoid Summary

My English professor wants me to avoid summary. What's the difference between summary and analysis?

The best way to avoid summary is to resist the temptation to organize your essay according to the development of the text [or to] treat things in the sequence in which they happen in the poem or in the novel, and if you break up that sequence, then...you're going to be moving toward analysis because you're going to be choosing to treat the points in an order that flows from your thesis, from your intention, [or] what you're trying to argue, and once that happens, once you're not just following along with the text but taking control of the material, shaping it, using a sequence you've designed, then you going to lead yourself quite naturally into arguing a case rather than summarizing. Exactly: the best point for illustrating my thesis is X, and the next best point is Y, and the clincher is this one, and you finish, usually, climactically with a very strong point or a point that really shows your insight [and] that maybe you have to develop that point and explain it more fully than some of the other points, and it shows off your understanding of the text. That's almost a good way of ending. So, yeah, a topical approach that flows from your thesis rather than flowing from the sequence of the text is really the key to being analytical.