You would think that the most common assignment in any college course is be the research paper. Well, yes, it would be unusual to go through a class and not have to do a research project before the semester ends. The most often required paper assignment quite often more than once in a semester in any course, however, is: the Summary and Response Essay.
The Summary and Response Essay
Often called the Summary Paper or Reaction Paper, the summary and response essay is the number one assignment university instructors require students to perform more than once before the term ends. That is where a reading prompt is given to the class to read: a handout, a chapter from the textbook, a newspaper or magazine article, a credible website article. Perhaps the source to read could even be a book, but the assignment should not be confused with a “book report” – perhaps a college-level “book review,” yes, but not a book report.
The reading prompt is often meant to have you be prompted to want to say something about its subject and how it relates to the theme or topic of the course you are taking. As a student, you are then “prompted” to write in a thoughtful, meaningful manner that eventually “shows off” your thinking, your written “analysis.”
First, you must summarize. That means putting information from the reading prompt or source into your own words. Although it does not sound difficult, it may not be as easy to do – that is if you are doing things correctly.
An “academic summary” means not just saying things in your own words. Of all the mounds of information you read in the source, you must identify and distinguish what are the major, important pieces of information vs. the minor details. You are expected to translate and expose in your summary only the essential, most important thoughts from the source into your own own written language. Not easy, that means you really shouldn’t quote anything from the reading prompt. If your assignment is meant for you to summarize, you must then summarize and not quote. On top of that, this means you must also check to make sure you have not plagiarized anything in your writing. You may not copy information word-for-word from the source into your own writing. Your expository work must be authentic: it must be your own.
Doing an academic summary also means that you may not inject your own opinions into your writing. You may recreate your own chronological order of how you restate the major pieces of the reading prompt’s information; that is, as along as the chronology you create still makes sense and does not track away from the original essence of the source author’s intent.
If you are permitted to inject your own individual thoughts or opinions, it must either be in a separate part two intended only as your response, or at least you must clearly distinguish what you are saying vs. what the actual author of the source is saying. Doing this required clarification very carefully helps to preserve the authenticity of the original source and how you were able to translate it for your reader to learn. Your reader learns from you what you learned from reading the prompt yourself!
In closing, why is this Summary and Response paper so common in a college course? First of all, it is not a “reaction” paper – a name often misused. “Response” means you as the writer are “responsible” to accurately report the information in your own words. You shouldn’t be emotional in tone by reacting, where you have no premeditated intent in what you are trying to convey.
This type of an assignment is often used by your professor for a number of reasons. One is to check if you actually did the assignment! “Did you really do the homework by reading the assigned source?” Second is to determine if you really understood what you read. Your professor will be able to see if you misunderstood the reading. Reading in college is not the same as reading in high school!
A good use of this type of an assignment would be for your instructor to later talk about the reading prompt to convey and clarify the essential thoughts of the source and its author. Meaningful discussion can be most worthwhile if your professor can take the general results of your classmates’ written summaries to the next level – and that is for participants in the community of learning, the classroom, to actually dialogue together in what they have learned from what they have read!
Have you ever thought about that?