Essay Tip Sheet #3

Essay #3: Summary and Response

The Writing Assignment

Begin by reading Shitty First Drafts by Anne Lamott.

This assignment consists of two papers, with two different final due dates.

  1. A brief summary of the article.
  2. A thoughtful academic response to the article.

Hints for Success


Summary writing is some of the most difficult work you will be assigned. It is essential, though, because it is so common in academic work: abstracts for APA papers, summaries for business reports, and so on. I have assigned this summary because you cannot write an intelligent response to an article without really understanding it.

You are not a character in a summary; it is not about you or your feelings. You are not recommending that the audience read the piece; this is not an advertising brochure. You are not a mind-reader; do not attempt to tell us what the author was unsuccessfully attempting to communicate—all you have to go on is what the author actually said, not what the author was thinking of and trying to say.

Therefore you can lose these phrases:

Notice that this assignment has a maximum word count, so don't put in all the typical freshman gas that people write to hit minimums.


Purpose of the paper: To demonstrate your understanding and analysis of a piece of writing; to clearly communicate the author's argument and your evaluation of and/or agreement/disagreement with that argument.

Audience: Your classmates and instructor as an academic audience. You can assume that your readers will be interested in your response but expect you to have read thoroughly and critically, to support your assertions, and to demonstrate how you have come to your understanding of the text. Assume that personal experience alone will not be sufficient to convince your audience. Additionally, academic audiences expect you to use a reasonable tone, to write in standard English, and to respect your readers and sources.

This essay will need an introduction, complete with the name of the article and the name of the author, as well as your thesis. Do not begin your response with "The author made a great point in the second paragraph."

This essay was written by a highly-regarded author of eighteen books and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. You will not do yourself any favors, therefore, if you start on the offensive and claim that the author is an idiot or that the writing itself is stupid. Yes, it is OK to disagree with the author, but do it with some tact and give specific support for your ideas, quoting from the source and discussing your point of disagreement.

Don't be superficial. If you had to look up a lot of words, that's not really the material for a critique.

The place of humor in academic writing: It's not necessary for all good academic writing to sound like a Wikipedia article or the owner's manual for a car. Not all humor consists of obscene jokes or laughing at a victim. ("A nun fell down the stairs and broke her arm" is not a joke. Only cruel, heartless people would laugh.) Don't simply write this article off just because it uses humor to make its point.

Difference between a response paper and a critique

Later in this course you will be assigned a critique. The two papers have a lot of similarities, but the basic question they are attempting to answer is different. The response paper asks very subjective questions: "How does this fit in with other academic studies?" "How does this square with what else I know about the world?" "What is the possible application of this material?" The critique is much more focused on whether the piece did what it was attempting to do: "Did this work the way the author intended?"

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Revised 8/1/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: