How To Write an Overview of an Essay

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An overview of an essay is not a reproduction of the original, which is a common mistake many students make. An overview is a piece of writing which aims to deliver an understanding of the original essay but without their needing to read the original.

In some respects, it is a summary, or abstract, but an overview provides a little more detail than a summary, or abstract. Like any other well-produced piece of writing, an overview of an essay should be concise, well-structured, and coherent and be effectively planned before commencing writing.

Key Point:  An overview of an essay is objective, there is no need to give an opinion on the points made, the aim is not to analyse or critically review the work, but simply to give a summary of the information in the original text.

Planning your overview

The first stage of planning an overview is to read, and re-read the original text, the first time to gain an overall feeling for the subject of the work and the author’s aim and intent. The second time is to delve deeper into the work and identify the style, tone and intended audience for the essay, as well as an initial breaking down and listing of the core ideas and points discussed.

Once the core ideas have been identified, it is good practice to break the original text down into sections, usually into relevant points or arguments made by the authors. This supports your understanding of the material and can highlight other key points not identified in the first reading.

Good practice at this point is to mark both areas for inclusion in the overview and those that are seen as secondary and thus will be excluded. For each key point note the information given and any sources. You are now ready to write your overview.

Writing your overview


The introduction should draw in your reader with a hook to encourage them to read further. In addition, you should include the title of the essay, the author and any available detail on the author that is relevant to the work, for example, professional status or similar. It can also be useful in the introduction to provide a small level of background detail to the topic to give a foundation for the reader.

Main Body text

The main body is where the key ideas identified in the planning stage are presented. Each idea should be written as a separate paragraph and include only important information summarised from the original text. It is for this reason that the planning stage includes identification of “for inclusion” and “for exclusion” points from the original work. In essence, following this process ensures all relevant and key details of the work are included in the overview and supports the delivery of a logical, coherent overview structure. Furthermore, the body text, should, where appropriate include references or quotes from the original text to improve clarity and the information being presented.


The conclusion should sum up any major points from the essay, including any conclusions drawn or opinions given and why, along with any calls for action that are highlighted in the original work. Note: There is no requirement to give an opinion on the work in an overview, it is a summary, not an evaluation. This can include future research, further reading or similar. Remember, you are not replicating the original work, but simply giving an overview or summary of the main points made in the essay.

Key phrases for writing an overview of an essay.

To help you write an effective overview of an essay, we have put together some key phrases that can be used at different stages of the work.

For the body text:

The author endeavours to prove…
…expresses a view that…to the effect that…
…seeks to criticise…
…having dismissed x, the author then…
…provides excellent examples of…
Ultimately, for the author…
Appears to be saying that…
From the evidence and evaluation, it does appear…
The author suggests that for the future…

For summarising, the following phrases are useful:

  • The most important
  • Finally
  • Lastly
  • First of all


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