Summary, Analysis, Response: A Functional Approach to Reading, Understanding, and Responding to Nonfiction

This resource gives students a way to approach reading and responding to nonfiction without requiring them to write an essay. It is relatively formulaic but builds skills through scaffolding concepts and encouraging students to develop the confidence necessary to start reading critically and making arguments about the nonfiction they read.

Find below a PDF of the SAR GUIDELINES:

Download: SAR Guidelines and Worksheet, Jan. 2016, Ramsey_1.pdf

Find below a PDF of two types of PEER REVIEW forms for the SAR:

Download: SAR Peer Review, Two Options Jan. 2016.pdf

Find below a PDF of two types of ASSESSMENT forms for the SAR: 

Download: SAR Assessment, Two Options Jan. 2016.pdf


CLICK HERE for a link to guidelines for writing a Summary, Analysis, Response as well as a sample SAR, tips and warnings. Hard copy is below, but the formatting is kind of messed up. 

SAR (Summary, Analysis, Response) Guidelines,  2015 / Ramsey

--SARs should be exactly three paragraphs long and no longer than two typed, double-spaced pages.

--Include a title:  SAR #1: “Title of Essay” (or SAR #2: “Title of Essay,” etc.)

--SARs should be free of errors in conventions, written in present tense in an academic tone (often more formal than the tone of the essay you’re writing about), and MLA formatted.

Paragraph 1 (of 3): SUMMARIZE.   See page 4.

Summarize the ideas, mainly with your own words, including BRIEF (2-5 word) cited direct quotations when necessary. Include the author’s first and last names—correctly spelled—as well as the essay title in quotation marks. This should be the shortest of the three paragraphs.

Paragraph 2 (of 3):  ANALYZE.   See pages 5 – 7.

Identify parts of the reading, including . . .

  a.   The  context in which the essay was written (a contribution to discussion or debate about what?)

  b.   The  audience for whom the essay was intended.

  c.   The  purpose of the essay. (Remember, most essays have at least some element of persuasion.)

  d.   The  organizational form(s) of the essay. Don’t describe it—identify which TYPE it is.

  e.   The  tone(s) of the essay. Include a “blend” quotation proving the strongest of the essay’s tones.

          See pages 8 - 9 for information about blending quotations.

  f.   The  tools used to accomplish the essay’s purpose. Identify at least THREE tools, and include a

         “blend” quotation that illustrates at least one of these tools.  

  g.   The  thesis of essay. The thesis could be explicitly stated in the essay or more obliquely implied.

Include discussion of all seven things above (a-g, plus direct quotations for tone and tools), in the order outlined above.

Paragraph 3 (of 3): RESPOND / REACT.

Give a personal response to the reading. What ideas do you find interesting? Why? (Even if you don’t like the essay, you should still be able to find something interesting about it.) Do you agree with the author’s “message”? You can also evaluate and/or challenge the essay in this paragraph. Is the author’s purpose achieved? How well does the author prove her/his argument? What could someone on the other side of this argument say, and how valid would that criticism be? What flaws in logic do you see in the author’s argument?

This is the only paragraph where you should use the first-person “I.”



A  Student     


Writing 122

23 September 2015

                                       SAR #1:  “The Culture of American Film”

    In “The Culture of American Film,” Julia Newman argues that analyzing movies for “cultural significance” (294) can lead to greater understanding of changes in our society.

    This essay was written in the context of a growing movement in academia toward viewing popular films as literature and analyzing movies as cultural text. Newman’s intended audience is probably university-level scholars, but her ideas are accessible to anyone interested in examining film as it suggests underlying societal structures. One purpose of this essay is to explain how to view films as indications of what’s going on in our society, but Newman also wants to persuade the reader that there’s more to movies than just entertainment. The organizational form of the essay is classification, as Newman places movies into categories of those that do reflect changes in our society and those that do not, then she compares and contrasts these categories. In addition, the essay employs a chronological organizational form in which Newman describes the plots of various movies from 50 years ago to the present. The tone of the essay is consistently encouraging and knowledgeable. There’s a sort of majestic tone to the introduction, too, as Newman pronounces that the “significance of storytelling has diminished over the decades, and cinema has risen to take its place” (291).  Tools Newman uses to accomplish her purpose include specific examples of film analyses, an impressive balance between academic and accessible word choices, and concessions to the opposition, like when she writes, “However, it is easy to overstate these connections” (292). The thesis of the essay appears on page 298: “But as cinematic forms of storytelling overtake written forms of expression, the study of movies as complex text bearing cultural messages and values is becoming more and more important.” In other words, we can learn a lot about structural shifts within our culture through studying popular film as literary text.

    I found the ideas in this essay quite compelling. The essay makes me want to examine the movies of ten or twenty years ago to consider what they suggested about our society then. The essay also makes me think about films that have been nominated for Academy Awards this year, like The Artist, and what the popularity of this silent movie says about changes taking place in our culture right now. I do wish Newman had used more current examples; most of her examples are so old that I’ve never seen them. I also wonder how much knowledge of history is necessary to really apply her thesis. . . . I don’t think I’ll ever have a strong enough understanding of American history to apply Newman’s ideas to movies that have been popular in the past, and I can’t imagine trying to examine currently popular movies for what they suggest about cultural shifts that are happening right now.  It seems like the type of analysis she encourages is only possible in retrospect and with a strong understanding of movements in American history.

Paragraph 1 (of 3): SUMMARIZE.

Summarize the ideas, mainly with your own words, including BRIEF (2-5 word) direct quotations when necessary. Include the author’s first and last names—correctly spelled—as well as the essay title in quotation marks. This should be the shortest of the paragraphs. Keep your summary in the present  tense.

Note:  The verbs you use in summarizing an essay suggest an author’s purpose and can imply a judgment of that purpose.

If you say, “The author . . .

Tells” (suggests the author’s purpose is to explain or narrate)

  • Explains” (suggests author’s purpose is to explain or inform)Argues” (suggests author is trying to persuade)

  • Claims” (suggests author is trying to persuade; further suggests you don’t buy what the author is saying)

  • Informs” (suggests dryly expository writing)

  • Persuades” (suggests persuasive writing, duh)

  • Exposes” (suggests author’s purpose is to investigate something hidden)

  • Teaches” (suggests author is explaining or informing)

  • Narrates” (suggests author is telling a personal story)

  • Relates” (suggests author’s purpose is to explain through comparison)

  • Distinguishes” (suggests author’s purpose is to explain by contrasting topics)

  • Compares” (suggests author’s purpose is to draw similarities between topics)

  • Contrasts” (suggests author’s purpose is to find differences between topics)

  • Warns” (suggests author’s purpose is to persuade through caution)

  • Suggests” (suggests gently persuasive writing)

  • Implies” (suggests persuasive writing; further suggests you’re skeptical about the author’s motivations and/or implications)

Note:  Summaries are NOT like movie trailers, designed to entice the viewer into thinking there’s something interesting coming.  Instead, summaries should explain clearly and succinctly (briefly) what those interesting ideas ARE and what the author’s argument is.

Sample summaries

In “The Culture of American Film,” Julia Newman claims that analyzing movies for “cultural significance” (294) can lead to greater understanding of our society and of changes in our society.

In “Nothing But Net,” Mark McFadden uses specific examples, questions directed at the reader, and personal experience to argue that instead of protecting “work rules and the rules of common decency” (paragraph 1), internet spying technology is ultimately ineffectual and creates an atmosphere of mistrust.

Paragraph 2 (of 3): Analyze. Keep analysis in the present tense.

Context:      This essay is a contribution to a larger discussion or debate about

        what? What events or ideas prompted the author to write this essay?

Audience:    Who is likely to read this essay? Where was it originally published,

        and what type of publication is/was it? Who can access this language?

Purpose*:      To entertain?        To persuade?        To congratulate?

                       To instruct?           To warn?              To scold?

                       To inform or explain?                         Some combination of these?

Organizational form:   Chronological? (in order of time)

                                       Cause and effect? (something causes something)

                                       Comparison and contrast? (similarities and differences)

                                        Classification? (putting things into categories)

                                          Some combination of these?

Tone**:                            Resigned?         Antagonistic?     Humorous?

                                          Assured?           Happy?               Confident?

                                          Sympathetic?    Urgent?              Encouraging?

                                         Frustrated?        Energetic?         Pleading?

                                          Detached?         Ambivalent?      Apathetic?

                                          Clinical?            Amused?           Smug?           Some combination?

Tools:                                Facts and figures?            Illustrations?

                                           Direct quotations?            Brevity? (shortness)

                                           Imagery?                           Analogies?

                                           Expert testimony?            Humor or sarcasm?

                                           Personal experience?       Similes?

                                           Questions directed at reader?                Fallacies? (flaws in logic—don’t     

                                           Subheadings?                                           identify fallacies as tools unless you

                                           Concessions to the opposition?               plan to criticize the essay in your

                                            Allusions to other works?                       personal-reaction paragraph)                   

Thesis:    The one or two sentences that best summarize THE POINT of the

                      essay. (Sometimes the point is implied instead of overtly stated.)  

Note: Professional writing does NOT usually look like the traditional five-paragraph form.

*All essays have an element of persuasion.

**Tone usually changes as the essay proceeds.


Name ___________________________________________

OPTIONAL Essay Analysis Worksheet / Ramsey

Use your SAR guidelines to help you fill out the blanks below.

I. Summarize the essay with one to three sentences. The summary should include the author’s full name (correctly spelled), the title of essay (correctly punctuated), and all main ideas. The summary should be written in the present tense and with an academic tone. Include the POINT—this is not like a book jacket.

Example:  In “The Culture of American Film,” Julia Newman claims that analyzing movies for “cultural significance” (294) can lead to greater understanding of our society and of changes in our society.

II. Analyze the essay by filling in the blanks below.

  1. Context:  This essay is a contribution to a larger discussion or debate about . . .



   B.  Audience:  People most likely to read the essay and agree with the author are _________________


    C.  Purpose:  The author wrote this essay in order to . . . (circle one or more)

    entertain        explain/inform       persuade*       warn        congratulate   

     instruct        scold        other ________________________________________________

*Every essay has an element of persuasion. I hope you circled “persuade” above.

   D.  The organizational form of the essay is . . . (check one or more)

_____ chronological (from __________________________  to ________________________)    

_____ compare and contrast: author examines similarities and differences between

                          __________________________________ and _______________________________   

_____ classification: author puts types of __________________________________________

                          into these categories: _____________________________________________________


_____ cause and effect: author claims _____________________________________________

                               _______________________________________________________ cause/contribute to



_____ some other form best described as _________________________________________

   E.  The author’s tone (attitude toward the subject of the essay) at the beginning of the essay

    can best be described as ____________________________ and ________________________,

then in page/paragraph number _______, it changes to ________________________________

and __________________________.  The concluding tone is __________________________.  

   F.  Tools the author uses to accomplish his/her purpose(s) include ___________________________,

    _______________________________, and ________________________________________ .

   G.  The author’s thesis appears in paragraph/page number___ and is (copy or put in your own words):







(If you copied the thesis, did you put the borrowed words in quotation marks?)

Principles of Proper Quotation Format  (MLA format)

  1. Keep quotations as short as possible.

  2. If a sentence begins with quotation marks and ends with quotation marks and contains only words taken from a source, you have not introduced the quotation well. Never have such a "stand-alone" quotation.

  3. A sentence containing a quotation should end with the source and page number (or paragraph number) in parentheses. Usually this parenthetical citation comes before the final period but outside any quotation marks at the end of the sentence.


There are three styles of quotations distinguished by how the passage is incorporated into your own wording:

A.  In a "Tag Quotation," an introductory phrase (usually identifying the source of the quotation) is joined by a comma to a full, sentence-long quotation.    

Example:  According to Grafton, "This need for forbiddenness also accounts for Charity’s voyeuristic impulse to continue watching Harney" (357).

Example:  Smith argues, “This insistence seems strange, even forced” (113).

B.  In an "Analytic Quotation," a complete sentence of analysis by the student is followed by a colon introducing a quotation that illustrates support for the argument. (The quotation illustrates the student’s analysis.)

Example:  Life in North Dormer is intolerably oppressive to Charity:  "She is stifled by its petty bourgeois conventions and longs for adventure" (Singley 113).

Example:  Tom finds himself wondering why he came: “He couldn’t identify a reason for his own behavior, and this troubled him” (Brown 385).

C.  In a "Blend Quotation," a short phrase or even just a single key word is quoted and included in the student’s own sentence in such a fluid way that only the quotation marks may reveal the material to be a quotation.  THIS IS THE BEST TYPE OF QUOTATION.

Example:  Their “silent lies” (Watson 22) prevent the relationship from ever fully recovering.

Example:  From the outset of Edith Wharton's Summer, Charity Royall dramatizes the "American quest for freedom" (Singley 155).


Again, if a sentence begins with quotation marks and ends with quotation marks and contains only words taken from a source, you have not introduced the quotation properly. Never have such a "stand-alone" quotation.

USING DIRECT QUOTATIONS: Work direct quotations directly into the fabric of your sentences.  

DON’T say:

Tools Smith uses include professional vocabulary, expert testimony, and personal experience.  “Studies by the Kaufmann Group indicate a 78% increase in depression” (6).

AGAIN, THIS IS POOR USE OF A DIRECT QUOTATION, and it’s completely unclear.  Does it support your identification of professional vocabulary? Expert testimony? Personal experience?  Who knows?!

Instead, write something like this “analytic” quotation:

Smith uses personal experience as a tool. He also uses expert testimony: “Studies by the Kaufmann Group indicate a 78% increase in depression” (6).

Or, even better, this “blend” quotation:

Smith uses professional vocabulary and personal experience as tools to convince his readers and engage them. Other tools include expert testimony, as seen in his reference to the study by the Kaufmann Group, which found a “78% increase in depression” associated with second-hand smoke (6).

Advice and warnings about your first SARs . . .

  • This type of writing is very formulaic, so don’t worry about being pretty or having an engaging “voice.” Instead, be clear.

  • Write with an academic tone, so avoid “things,” “stuff,” “you,” “kids,” and “nowadays.” Sometimes your tone will be more formal than the author of the essay.

  • Your summary should include the author’s first and last name—correctly spelled—and the title of the essay. Use first and last names the first time you use refer to the author (in the summary); use only the last name every other time. Don’t refer to the author by her/his first name only.

  • Students often forget that an essay can have more than one purpose and all essays have at least some element of persuasion.

  • Analysis paragraphs are often incomplete.  It should have ELEVEN things: identification of context, audience, purpose, organizational form, tone, 3 tools, thesis, and two direct quotations.

  • Be sure to identify which TYPE of organizational form the author uses: compare and contrast? classification (putting things in categories)? chronological? cause and effect?   

  • Don’t be afraid to use “red flag” words to guide your reader through the analysis paragraph. You can actually use the words “purpose,” “tone,” “thesis,” etc. to direct your reader through your SAR.

  • Limit your opinion to the third paragraph. Much of the second paragraph really is opinion, but state it as fact. This makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about, which is more convincing and more professional.

  • Remember, longer is not necessarily better, but SOME discussion is good. A one-page SAR is too short. One and a half full pages can be okay, but two full pages is probably best.)

  • Proofread, use the writing labs, and proofread again before printing.

  • Re-read the directions, advice, and warnings before printing.  There’s a lot to remember here!

Download: SAR Guidelines and Worksheet, Jan. 2016, Ramsey.pdf

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