Move Beyond Summary of Author’s Ideas (Analyze vs. Summarize)

This is the most used comment of all comments because students don’t really understand what it means to analyze, to break something down, in this case a group of words; and then take each part and break it down to try to get at the root. To analyze is to really get at the root of the literary work. What happens when you pull a plant up from the ground? You get to the root. You see the roots and you find out that someone must have planted the seed for the flower to grow.

There is one thing that needs our immediate attention: although there are quotes incorporated within the following sample excerpt, the analysis as a whole still represents plot summary. The best way to prevent yourself from flooding your paper with plot summaries is to ask as many questions about the text as mentally possible. As you ask these questions, then answer them. This intellectual stretching of the mind, questioning and answering, begins the development of analysis. Let’s read the following excerpt from the student’s paper.

Sample Excerpt

Some would say that De Quincey was being hospitable and others might flat out contend that he was narrow-minded.  The latter holds more water.  For example, a couple lines down De Quincey divides the opium into three pieces and gives it to the Malay; and with one mouthful, he swallows it whole.  De Quincey returns in thought, “The quantity was enough to kill three dragoons and their horses:  and I felt some alarm for the poor creature:  but what could be done?” (450).  De Quincey rationalizes that he had given the Malay the opium because he was traveling by foot from London and it must have been three weeks since he’d last conversed with a human being (450); “I could not think of violating the laws of hospitality . . .” (De Quincey 450).  That would be his main defense if ever questioned.

Figure 18: Essay Excerpt on “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,” Thomas De Quincey


Don’t use clichés to convey a point. Don’t substitute clichés for analysis. Learn to express a point without using a cliché.


1) Why does De Quincey divide the opium into three pieces?

2) What impact will this have on him or the other person?

3) Who is traveling by foot? De Quincey? The Malay?


The student doesn’t use proper grammar to present the summary accurately.


The student summarizes the events of the work, but fails to provide distinctions between the actions of each character. The student also uses clichés to analyze the work, which is just another form of summarizing the topic. The comment “Move Beyond Summary of Author’s Ideas” is an instruction to help students identify plot summary, convert it into analysis, and continue discussing the topic.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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