Analysis vs. Summary

There is sometimes confusion about what kinds of ideas and content to include when we write about literature. The short answer is that our focus should be on analysis.

We want to avoid summarizing what happens in a text and instead focus on the meaning(s) in a text.

But what is analysis? And how is it different from summary?

ANALYSIS is examination, evaluation, dissection, interpretation, original opinion, reading between the lines, connecting to other knowledge, etc. It is the goal of most expository essays. The analyzer starts with a quotation or question and uses it to show his/her understating and interpretation.

SUMMARY is recapitulation, review, retelling a story or scene without original thoughts or interpretations. Summary is not the goal of expository essays. It is usually easier than analysis because it requires less thought. Assume that the reader of your essay knows the story and needs just the slightest reminder

Let’s take a look at an example to clarify the difference.

If we summarize the movie Jurassic Park (1993), we would say that it is a film about archeologists who are invited to a new park where scientists have brought dinosaurs back to life. Security at the park breaks down and the characters are thrust into very dangerous circumstances, threatened repeatedly by wild dinosaurs. They band together with others to save themselves and escape.

If we analyze Jurassic Park (1993), we would say that it is a film about the dangers of scientific over-reach and the hubris of the privileged elite. It’s about human strength being defined by compassion, but it’s also about greed as a human weakness.

These ideas are clearly expressed in the film, but when we point them out we are not simply talking about what happens in the movie. We are instead talking about the ideas that the events of the film convey.

That’s analysis. And that is the general approach we want to take when writing about literature.


How When to Use Summary

In literary analysis essays, we often need both analysis and summary.

While it is important to emphasize analysis, we still find ourselves sometimes needing explain the plot of a text or tell the reader about a specific moment in the story.

That’s fine.

But note this rule: Summary should always and only be used to support your analysis.

Summary = Evidence Supporting a Specific Point

Composition Rule for Literary Analysis

…No paragraph should consist only of summary.

  1. This means that you may have paragraphs with both summary and analysis.
  2. You may have paragraphs with no summary at all (when you are discussing specific lines or phrases or when you are discussing issues of authorial or historical context).
  3. You should never have paragraphs that do not present analysis.

Published by eric m martin

A writer, teacher and coffee shop owner living in the southern reaches of the Mojave Desert.

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