5 Paragraph Essay Format Summary Plan

Traditional Academic Essays In Three Parts

Part I: The Introduction

An introduction is usually the first paragraph of your academic essay. If you’re writing a long essay, you might need 2 or 3 paragraphs to introduce your topic to your reader. A good introduction does 2 things:

  1. Gets the reader’s attention. You can get a reader’s attention by telling a story, providing a statistic, pointing out something strange or interesting, providing and discussing an interesting quote, etc. Be interesting and find some original angle via which to engage others in your topic.
  2. Provides a specific and debatable thesis statement. The thesis statement is usually just one sentence long, but it might be longer—even a whole paragraph—if the essay you’re writing is long. A good thesis statement makes a debatable point, meaning a point someone might disagree with and argue against. It also serves as a roadmap for what you argue in your paper.

Part II: The Body Paragraphs

Body paragraphs help you prove your thesis and move you along a compelling trajectory from your introduction to your conclusion. If your thesis is a simple one, you might not need a lot of body paragraphs to prove it. If it’s more complicated, you’ll need more body paragraphs. An easy way to remember the parts of a body paragraph is to think of them as the MEAT of your essay:

Main Idea. The part of a topic sentence that states the main idea of the body paragraph. All of the sentences in the paragraph connect to it. Keep in mind that main ideas are…

  • like labels. They appear in the first sentence of the paragraph and tell your reader what’s inside the paragraph.
  • arguable. They’re not statements of fact; they’re debatable points that you prove with evidence.
  • focused. Make a specific point in each paragraph and then prove that point.

Evidence.The parts of a paragraph that prove the main idea. You might include different types of evidence in different sentences. Keep in mind that different disciplines have different ideas about what counts as evidence and they adhere to different citation styles. Examples of evidence include…

  • quotations and/or paraphrases from sources.
  • facts, e.g. statistics or findings from studies you’ve conducted.
  • narratives and/or descriptions, e.g. of your own experiences.

Analysis.The parts of a paragraph that explain the evidence. Make sure you tie the evidence you provide back to the paragraph’s main idea. In other words, discuss the evidence.

Transition.The part of a paragraph that helps you move fluidly from the last paragraph. Transitions appear in topic sentences along with main ideas, and they look both backward and forward in order to help you connect your ideas for your reader. Don’t end paragraphs with transitions; start with them.

Keep in mind that MEAT does not occur in that order. The “Transition” and the “Main Idea” often combine to form the first sentence—the topic sentence—and then paragraphs contain multiple sentences of evidence and analysis. For example, a paragraph might look like this: TM. E. E. A. E. E. A. A.

Part III: The Conclusion

A conclusion is the last paragraph of your essay, or, if you’re writing a really long essay, you might need 2 or 3 paragraphs to conclude. A conclusion typically does one of two things—or, of course, it can do both:

  1. Summarizes the argument. Some instructors expect you not to say anything new in your conclusion. They just want you to restate your main points. Especially if you’ve made a long and complicated argument, it’s useful to restate your main points for your reader by the time you’ve gotten to your conclusion. If you opt to do so, keep in mind that you should use different language than you used in your introduction and your body paragraphs. The introduction and conclusion shouldn’t be the same.
  2. Explains the significance of the argument. Some instructors want you to avoid restating your main points; they instead want you to explain your argument’s significance. In other words, they want you to answer the “so what” question by giving your reader a clearer sense of why your argument matters.
    • For example, your argument might be significant to studies of a certain time period.
    • Alternately, it might be significant to a certain geographical region.
    • Alternately still, it might influence how your readers think about the future. You might even opt to speculate about the future and/or call your readers to action in your conclusion.

Handout by Dr. Liliana Naydan. Do not reproduce without permission.


There are two basic types of summaries: a reader summary, that you compose to develop a better understanding of what you have read, or a summary essay, which is written for others and is an overview of an original text. The point of writing a summary essay is to convey an understanding of the essence of a source text to readers, without them having to read it in its entirety.

Steps for Writing a Summary Essay

  1. Thoroughly read and study the original text. When you read it, get a feeling for the author’s style, tone and mood, and try to identify the main ideas expressed.
  2. Divide the text into several sections, and sketch a rough outline. Breaking the text into several parts will make the material easier to grasp. Then read each part once more, but this time highlight some of the key points. Mark areas you want to refer to in your summary, as well as those that shouldn’t be included in your essay.
  3. When you have a clear understanding of the information in each part of the source, write down the main idea in each section in the form of a short overview.
  4. Write an introduction. It should briefly present the main ideas in the original text. The introduction should include the name of the author, the title of their work, and some background information about the author, if needed.
  5. In the main body paragraphs, state the ideas you’ve chosen while reading the text. Expand on them by including one or more examples from the original text. Include important information only and avoid describing minor, insignificant points.
  6. After you have summarized the main ideas in the original text, your essay is finished. A conclusion paragraph should be added if your teacher specifically tells you to include one.

Summary Essay Topics

You can write a summary essay on a scientific work, an interesting article, a novel, or a research paper. This type of essay can be on any subject. For example, you might want to write a summary essay on:

  • Catcher in the Rye (book)
  • Citizen Kane (film)
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (book)
  • Captain Fantastic (film)
  • Lord of the Rings (book)
  • Song of Two Humans (film)
  • Of Mice and Men (book)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (film)
  • Moby Dick (book)
  • Ben Hurr (film)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • A movie by Ingmar Bergman
  • A novel by Jack London
  • The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
  • An article in The New York Times
  • A blog post of a famous journalist

Key Points to Consider

  1. One of the most important aspects about a summary essay is its connection to the source. Keep in mind that your interpretation of the source can mislead your readers or even distort the meaning of the original text.
  2. Your summary essay should serve as a substitute for the original source; by reading your summary essay, a reader should be able to develop an understanding of the original work.
  3. This type of essay is about summarizing the original text, not criticizing it.

Do and Don’t

Do
  • Do cite the author’s words if you need to use them. Otherwise, it may look like plagiarism.
  • Do write in present tense, even if the author of the original text has passed away a long time ago.
  • Do understand the original source completely. If you have doubts about the meaning of certain terms, clarify them before you start to write.
  • Do make sure you’ve said exactly what the author did when citing their words.
  • Do revise your paper when it’s ready. You may find a nice place to insert a new quotation, correct some mistakes, and make other improvements. You can also give your essay to a friend or a colleague to read to see if they can grasp the main idea of the source after reading your summary essay.
Don’t
  • Don’t include your own examples or interpretations in your paper. You literally need to repeat the information given in the original text, but in a shorter frame and in your own words.
  • Don’t insert any of your evaluations or judgments about the text. Your task is to summarize, not give a personal opinion.
  • Don’t try to grasp all of the ideas contained in the original text in your essay. Focus only on the most important points.
  • Don’t report on unnecessary details.
  • Don’t forget to include transitions to signal when you move to a new idea within the same paragraph.

Common Mistakes

– Including too much or too little information in your essay.

– Forgetting to cite quotations, so that the words of the original texts’ author looks like your own.

– Concentrating on insignificant details, examples, and anecdotes.

– Trying to interpret or explain what the author wanted to say in his or her work. You must give a concise overview of the source, not present your own interpretation.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic summary essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our summary essay samples to link theory with practice.

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Samples for Writing a Summary Essay

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