When you return from the movies and when your friends or family members ask you about the film you just viewed, how do you answer? Do you start at the beginning and give a long, detailed summary of every incident all the way through to the climax and the conclusion? Or do you give a quick analysis (“Fantastic!” or “What a waste!”) and then gradually explain the reasons why anyone should, or should not, pay full price to see this particular movie?
You probably take the second approach. After all, most people want to know your general reaction first and the reasons later. Plus, they probably don’t want all the specific details, either because they’ve already seen the movie or because they’re thinking about seeing it in the near future. Yet, when college instructors ask a similar question in the form of a writing assignment, many students make the mistake of writing a summary when they should be writing an analysis. Let’s look at the differences between the two.
A summary — sometimes referred to as an abstract — is essentially an essay that explains the key idea of an article, a book, or a creative work of art. The summary should be much shorter than the original work and purely objective. In other words, you shouldn’t include your personal opinion in a summary. Thus, if I were to summarize the folk tale of “The Three Little Pigs,” I might write something like this:
“Three pigs each had to build a home. The first didn’t want to work too hard, so he built his house of straw and went off to play. The second was pretty busy, so he built his house of sticks and went off to the fair. But the third was a bit more ambitious. He wanted a strong, sturdy house, so he took his time and carefully built a house of bricks.
“All three houses appeared to be sufficient and safe until the big, bad wolf came along. He blew down the first and second houses and forced those two pigs to run to the third pig’s house for safety. Since the wolf could not blow down the brick house, he climbed to the roof and went down the chimney. But the pigs had a hot fire and a boiling pot of water waiting for him, and they boiled him, ate him for supper…