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Writing Summary, Analysis, Response Papers

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.


What is an SAR?

Summary: giving the main ideas

Analysis: evaluating how well it is written

Response: telling your reaction

Why Writing SAR is Important

Response papers are vital for learning to research because they help you to absorb the information you read, analyze it, and then decide how it can be used to support the points you want to make in your essay. Whether you jot notes on the margins, scribble notes on paper, or type up a formal essay, you are always doing these steps as you read something for your research paper:

  1. Summary: What is the main idea of the text? What does the author want the audience to think, do or believe after reading? What evidence do they use to support their ideas?
  2. Analysis: Who is the audience? How is the way this text is written effective or ineffective for this audience?
  3. Response: What do I think about the argument in this text? Why? How can I use this text in my research paper? What will it help me to prove?

Sometimes we don't write down all 3 of these parts. For example, an Annotated Bibliography is generally just a summary, or you may be writing just a Response Paper or a Summary Analysis.

How to Use for Your Research

Why Write SARs? Writing down a Summary, Analysis, and Response for each of the sources you gather for a research paper is a good way to help you understand your sources and how you can use them in your paper.

How Long Should They Be? It doesn't have to be long. You can write it as you read your articles because a SAR should help you understand what you read better and also help you remember what you read. My students generally write 1-2 pages or 250-500 words.

Choosing an Arguable Question. Research papers need to be written about some issues that people disagree about. I call that an "arguable question." Sometimes you may have decided on your question before you start looking for research. Other times, you will form your question after doing your SARs.

Different Kinds of Arguable Questions: When you are formulating your question, it helps to know that there are 5 basic kinds of claims:

  • Fact claims (Is it true that...? What happened?)
  • Definition claims (What does it mean? The true meaning is...)
  • Value Claims (How important is it? How much attention should be paid to it?)
  • Cause Claims (What caused it? What are the effects? What is the sequence of causes and effects?)
  • Solution Claims (What should we do about it? What is the best way to solve this problem?)

Steps to Research: After you choose your question, you need to think about what sorts of positions people have on this issue. The worksheet below is designed to help you first think about what you expect to find, and then track how the articles you find fit what you need to say in your paper. This worksheet is designed to lead to an Exploratory essay, which looks at an issue from several viewpoints. If you are trying to write a Position paper that proves a point, then you may want more of your sources to have evidence for the point you want to prove.

Essay Topic

Does military discipline make a young man a better person?

Does military discipline make a young man a better person?

Worksheet for Research

My Arguable Question:_____________________________________________ Positions I think people will hold on this issue (try to list at least 3): 1.______________________________________________________________ 2.______________________________________________________________ 3._____________________________________________________________ 1


Article Title/Author/source/date: What position(s) does this article take? How does this article helps me understand topic? 2


Article: Title/Author/source/date: What position(s) does this article take? How does this article helps me understand topic? 3


Article: Title/Author/source/date What position(s) does this article take? How does this article helps me understand topic? 4

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Article: Title/Author/source/date What position(s) does this article take? How does this article helps me understand topic? 5


Article: Title/Author/source/date What position(s) does this article take? How does this article helps me understand topic?


After you have gathered your research, you will need to read it carefully and take notes. Here is the format for the essay:

Bibliographical Citation: You need to put the author, title, journal, and dates in the correct format. Most English classes use MLA Bibliography format, you can follow my link to a simple guide, or you may want to use one of the free online resources that help you make your citation correctly. My students like EasyBib, which lets you do not only MLA but also APA and Chicago Styles.

Summary: In one or two paragraphs, explain in your own words what the main claim of the author is and how they support their point of view. Don't use quotations in a summary. Keep the sentences in your own style and words. Don't tell all the details. Just stick to the main points. It helps to underline the topic sentence of each paragraph and then read those all together to get the gist of the main point.

Analysis: An analysis is really where you explain who wrote the text, who the audience is, and how effective the article is for that audience. You can talk about author bias, the context of the time when the article is written, and how this article fits into the dialogue about this issue. See the peer review sheet below and my information on how to write a SAR for more ideas.

Response: A response is your thoughts about the article. There are 3 parts to a response:

  • Personal Response: You can respond to the content, whether you agree or disagree, and also to the way it is written, whether you found it effective or not.
  • Explain Place of Article in Debate: In addition, you need to explain how this article fits into the argument about this issue. Does this article explain one side? Try to look at several sides objectively. Argue passionately for a particular view?
  • How it Can Help Your Essay: Finally, you need to explain how this article will help you in your own essay. Where will you use this article? What will this article help you explain?

Often, I actually have my students write the response first, and then do their analysis. Why? Because when we read, we are often responding to the author in our heads. It is important to record our responses: what we are thinking as we read, how we agree or disagree, what we notice about the author, and the strength of the arguments. After we have recorded our responses, then we can analyze why we responded that way by looking more closely at the text of the article and seeing how word choice, tone, style, and supporting evidence either moved us to agree or made us disagree.

Is sugar the cause of obesity?

Is sugar the cause of obesity?

Help from Peer Editing

Do a Draft Workshop: After you have written your first draft, it helps to have someone read your paper and give you help. I have my students get in groups of 3-5 and exchange papers. If possible, try to work with someone else who is writing a similar paper because one of the benefits of doing peer editing is reading someone else's paper.

Get Help as You Give Help: Often you get a lot of good ideas from the way someone else interpreted the assignment. Many of the ideas I've gotten for my articles on writing are things I learned while reading my student's papers! Some instructors may have you peer edit but not give you instructions on how to do that. If so, you can use the following worksheet. I designed it so that it can also help you to re-write your paper on your own.

Peer Editing Draft Workshop Handout

Writer: Write (on a separate sheet of paper):

  1. Questions you have for the peer editor.
  2. What do you want them to help you with?

Peer Editor (put your name at the top of the draft paper—editor #____________)

I. Read the paper and make marks on the draft about:

  • grammar and spelling errors
  • what you think is good
  • where they need more support
  • where they need better transitions
  • where they need more explanation or description

II. On a separate sheet of paper write about these 3 parts of the paper. Use the questions to help you respond:

1. Summary: this should be clear, and concise and make you understand the main point of the article even if you have never read it before.

  1. Do they include the author and article?
  2. Is the summary clear?
  3. Good paraphrase, not too much quotation?
  4. Concise?
  5. Would understand the essay without having read it?

2. Analysis: should include several of these, focusing on the idea of how the way this article is written makes it effective or ineffective:

  1. Does the writer cover text? Do they need to add any of these: How style, language, and tone are effective? How are arguments and support ineffective or effective?
  2. Does the writer explain: Author? Reader? Common Ground? How is this text effective or ineffective for this audience?
  3. Do they explain the context and how this article fits into the argument over this question?
  4. Does the writer examine the rhetorical situation when the article was written? Compare the moment when it was written to the events happening now?
  5. Does the analysis need more examples or additional support?
  6. Is analysis insightful? Do you feel you learned something interesting?

3. Response: should explain what the writer thought about the article as well as how this article will help them explain the points of view on this question:

  1. Is the response thoughtful?
  2. Does the writer explain what information this essay gives to the question?
  3. Does the writer explain how they will use this essay in their paper?

Research Question


Susha Prasad from India on February 08, 2013:

very informative......

good writing...................

Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on February 08, 2013:

So helpful! Your articles have been great resources for me to use as a sort of check to make sure that I am taking the right approach in the college level class I am teaching at my HS. Thank you.

Joan Whetzel on February 08, 2013:

Great ideas and information here. Well written and organized too.

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