What’s a Summary Sentence?
You will often find summary sentences at the end of body paragraphs in academic essays. This sentence type is not generally compulsory, but a good one may help with your essay’s overall cohesion and coherence.
Name vs. Function
The name “summary sentence” is somewhat misleading as it implies that the sentence simply summarizes information, and that’s not how it should function. In an academic essay, the summary sentence should be more sophisticated than a simple repetition of the main idea of its paragraph. (Note that summary sentences are also sometimes called “concluding sentences” although they don’t necessarily draw conclusions either.)
One function of a summary sentence can be to create a link with the paragraph that follows. But it should not just explain what the next topic sentence will be. Instead, it should show an important connection with the main idea of the next paragraph. Using the same example as above, we can see how this works:
So, we can see what’s been done here; the summary sentence mentions that negative effects will follow the increasing costs of public education (i.e. the topic of the first paragraph) and the topic of the next paragraph describes one of these effects. Now, you have a neat link that doesn’t involve unnecessary repetition.
That’s how to do it. But how about how not to do it. If you can’t make a decent summary sentence, you shouldn’t make one at all. And you should be able to recognize the difference. Below, for example, are two poor summary sentence alternatives for the same body paragraph.
Why is it poor? Because it simply repeats/rephrases the topic sentence of the paragraph it’s in. No link is established with what’s to come and no new information is given. In short, it’s superfluous.
What about this one? It does establish a link it seems. However, because it specifies the topic of the next paragraph, it again causes repetition (as you can see below if you read the two sentences together).
So, what have we learned here?
- Summary sentences are optional but can be useful
- They should not just be summaries of the paragraph they are in
- They should not just be summaries of the next paragraph
- They should make a conclusion or establish a link without unnecessarily repeating information
- When they do that, they can help with coherence and cohesion
Hope that helps any of you confused about summary sentences. Please feel free to comment and question below.