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Humanities Libertexts

7.3: Summary and Response Paper

An example of the summary/response writing would be to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and give a brief summary of the article and a response. Students might be asked to cite specific examples and avoid generalizations.

Before writing a summary, it is important to use your critical reading skills. First, read the article carefully. It might help to write down the main point of each paragraph in the margin next to it. Next, reread the article and look carefully for the main points the author is trying to get across. Look for things the author states explicitly, as well as what is implied by things that are not clearly stated. Look for any biases or missing information. Ask yourself questions while you read, such as “What is the big picture here? What is the author really trying to get across with this or that example?” The title will often provide a clue about the author’s main point. Most of all, slow down and take the time to reread the article several times. In summarizing an article, think about how you would explain its message to someone who hasn’t read it. What are the main points of the piece? What is necessary to know about the work in order to understand it?

While writing a summary is a familiar assignment from grade school, in college, summaries are no longer enough, and instructors will frequently require a response. Writing a response is giving your opinion about the text. However, statements such as “I did/did not like it” are not sufficient. Not only must you be more descriptive with your opinions, but you need to support them. If you do not think that an author provides enough information to prove his or her point, state the specific flaws and what can be done to improve them. The same rule applies for any emotions felt while reading the text. Instead of just saying the writing made you sad, point out a specific passage in the text that made you feel that way. Talk about the word choices the author used and how that affected your reading.

It is important to note the word “brief” in the assignment sheet. The instructor does not want a twopage summary and then a paragraph of reflection. Your response should take up the bulk of the paper.

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