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How to Write a Summary of an Academic Book


If you're summarizing an academic book, you may find the amount of information included intimidating. However, writing about a scholarly book is essentially no different from writing a book report; you simply must take into account that the author is explicitly trying to prove something. By focusing your writing on the book's central point, you can quickly determine what aspects are important to include in your paper.

Identify the Author's Main Argument

Your first step in summarizing an academic book is to figure out the central point the author is trying to make. Reread the introduction section of the book, since this usually contains a description of how the author organized her research and thoughts. The primary question you should ask yourself is, "What argument is the author trying to make?" The book's argument does not necessarily need to be an explicit proof of a point; the author may also simply be trying to provide an overview and analysis of her sources. For example, a book written by a medieval historian may simply describe the information included in a set of historical documents.

Identify Strengths and Weaknesses

Skim over each chapter of the book and figure out why the chapter topics are important to the book's central point. The author has likely provided a brief summary of each chapter's purpose in the book's introduction. Which of the arguments and data used by the author best support the main point? Are there any places where the author focused on an idea that distracted from the central argument? Note any ideas that are referenced or emphasized repeatedly in the text and determine why they are important to the central argument or the author's theoretical background. If the author explicitly references the theoretical framework they are using -- for example, Freudian or behaviorist in the case of a psychologist -- be sure to take note of this.

Determine Your Paper's Structure

Begin planning your paper by describing the book's argument and providing a short background of the author, including his theoretical framework, if applicable. The bulk of your paper should go through the book, in order, describing the important information and arguments of each chapter. Focus on information that is either related to the main argument of the book or that the author spends significant space describing. Examine why each piece of information is included, and mention any instances where the information does not appear to support the book's central argument. Then devote a couple paragraphs to describing the larger ideas and themes of the book. Provide a rationale for why these ideas might be important to the points the author is making.

Write Your Findings

Begin writing with a short three- or four-sentence introduction paragraph. The first sentence of your paper should concisely describe the central point of the book. The rest of the introduction paragraph should briefly list the important points of your book; think of this paragraph as a summary of the rest of your paper. Write the body of your paper using the structure you've previously determined. Your conclusion should reflect your paper's introduction, describing the author's argument and the information used. State your final evaluation of the book. Was the author successful in proving their central point? Why or why not? What information of value could a reader take from the book?

About the Author

Jon Zamboni began writing professionally in 2010. He has previously written for The Spiritual Herald, an urban health care and religious issues newspaper based in New York City, and online music magazine eBurban. Zamboni has a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Wesleyan University.

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