Summary -- Reaction Paper

If your instructor asks you to write a summary of something you've read, this summary will help you to clarify what you have read and to enable the instructor to determine whether you've understood it. Because this kind of assignment is limited to presenting others' ideas, an instructor will often combine it with a reaction assignment, to find out what your opinion is. In a reaction paper, usually after you have stated the author's main ideas and main supporting evidence, you state your own responses to those ideas, backing them up with your own evidence and thinking. In many cases your instructor is expecting a particular kind of reaction, for example, a statement of whether you agree or disagree with the text and your reasons. Find out the specific expectations.

Suggestions for Writing Summaries

The following is a reading-writing process that works for many students when summarizing thesis-support articles. You can adapt it for longer and different kinds of texts and to your own process, with guidance from your professor.

  1. Clarify the assignment - Know what process of thought is typically expected in summary papers. If they are not provided, ask for a model of what is expected and/or for guidelines, especially how long the summary should be in relation to the original.
  2. Read
    • Read the article all the way through without marking it, looking for the question the author is addressing and the answer the author is developing in response to the question (the thesis or main point).
    • After you finish, write down one sentence that captures the main point of the article. Ordinarily you should be able to begin it with, "It is true that . . . ."  If you have trouble with this, write down the central question or issue the article addresses. It is usually easier to see the thesis after you do this.
    • Look back at the article to see if you can find the thesis stated explicitly. Does this correspond to what you wrote? If not, look at the article again or reread if necessary until you feel fairly certain about the main point.
    • Now read the article again, marking the main points supporting the thesis and noting how the main points are tied together logically. The basic argument of thesis-support writing might be described as something like "This is true because . . . But another argument may be functioning as well. Look for the bare bones of this argument (such patterns as 'and/and/and/and' or 'and/but/but/nevertheless/so' or 'since/since/since/therefore' or 'based on this evidence/this evidence/this evidence' and so on).
  3. Write
    • Begin by citing the title, author, and source of the article.
    • State the thesis in your own words, and then, in your own words, as succinctly as possible describe each major point that supports the thesis, explaining the bare bones of the argument. Do not insert your own opinion anywhere.
    • Read your first draft out loud. Check for important omissions and unnecessary information and details. Check to see if it all makes sense. Check for length. If you did not follow the first step, you can use the general guideline that a summary should be no longer than one-fourth the length of the original. Cross out unnecessary words and note loosely-constructed sentences.
    • Revise in response to your notes on the first draft, tightening your writing.
    • Once you believe your summary is pretty much together, ask someone to read it critically.  See if your reader understands the basic points of the article after reading your summary.  This might be a great time to use the learning coaches available in every region of New York State for an in-person (when possible), phone, e-mail, or computer appointment!  Contact or the learning coaches in your region to set up an appointment. 
    • After making changes based on your reader's critique, edit and proofread.
    • Give yourself time before handing in your paper to look at it fresh, again checking for errors.

Suggestions for Writing Reaction Papers

  1. Clarify the assignment. Know what kind of thinking is typically expected in a Reaction paper. Ask for specific models or guidelines if they are not provided. Does your professor want a formal reaction paper, using the thesis-support form? Or is a more informal reaction expected? If informal, should you write an informal essay or just do journal writing?

Need Assistance?

Don't forget: if you would like assistance with this or any other type of writing assignment, learning coaches are available to assist you. Please contact Academic Support by emailing; calling 1-800-847-3000, ext. 3008; or calling the main number of the location in your region (see Academic Support Regional Contact Information for more information).

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