What’s the Difference Between a Summary and a Rhetorical Analysis?

A summary is a recapitulation or a retelling of an essay, story, or scene without original thoughts or interpretations. Summaries tell the reader what was written. Summaries are usually easier than analyses because they require a more basic level of thinking than analyses.

A rhetorical analysis is an examination, evaluation, or interpretation of a read text that is connected to other knowledge. Analyses look at how a text was written.

If you’re having trouble identifying the difference between a summary and a rhetorical analysis, here are some examples to help you.

Example 1:

Summary: Rachel Warner says global warming has negative effects and we should care about our world’s future.

Rhetorical analysis: Rachel Smith provides multiple, scientific studies that indicate the negative effects of global warming and punctuates her sentences with exclamation marks; thus, she uses factual data and punctuation to create a sense of urgency in readers and to persuade them of the planet’s critical status given recent trends in global warming.

Example 2:

Summary: Scarlet Johnson has a lot of formal language throughout her paper and hardly any informal words.

Rhetorical analysis: Scarlet Johnson employs formal language throughout the essay. For example, she argues that unequal funding in public schools creates a “horrific imbalance between affluent communities and those that are impoverished” (27). By using formal diction, she establishes herself as a credible author and persuades her readers to agree with her.

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About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.