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Focus on summarising

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Now we shall focus on the summary section of the essay extract.

Any summary you make of a historical argument should clearly outline the contents of the argument to your reader. You should think here of a 'broad readership'.

Ian: Think ... that you're writing for a friend doing another subject. Ask yourself: "Could somebody doing, say, Sociology or even Medicine or Engineering read this ... and understand what the issue is, what the argument is, etc.?" (FAQ #23)

You should also not assume that your reader has read the article.

Have a look again at the student's summary of Breitman's article.

[1] Breitman, in his article Plans for the Final Solution, refers to the controversy about the origins of the Holocaust as the "intentionalist-functionalist" debate; that is one between those who think the Holocaust was a preconceived Nazi plan, and those who think it was improvised hastily, notably after early German victories in the Soviet Union in mid-1941. [2] Brietman, in contrast to Browning, is very much an 'intentionalist', arguing that the 'murderous intentions' of Hitler, Himmler and other key Nazis were well underway before the invasion of the Soviet Union. [3] Whilst he admits that many of the Nazi documents on this issue are "inexact", he suggests that this is not because the Holocaust plan itself was uncertain, but rather because the Nazi leadership wanted to "conceal" and "veil" its real intentions from others (p. 271). [4] To support his case for pre-planning, Breitman relies on two main sources of evidence: memos from two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time - Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker; and the Nuremberg testimony of Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery

[5] The memos in question indicate that high-level discussion of some form of 'final solution' did take place early in 1941. [6] Danneker's memo in January 1941 disclosed that Hitler wanted a 'final solution' of the Jewish question. [7] A month later, Eichmann in a meeting at the Propaganda Office announced to rival bureaucrats that Hitler was determined to implement a 'final evacuation' of the Jews....

Would you say the summary is understandable to:

someone who has not read Breitman?

someone working outside History?

Check your answer


The summary is understandable to someone who has not read Breitman.

The summary provides good detail about the article's contents:

  • the debate Breitman is engaged in
  • what his position is
  • what types of evidence he presents
  • details of the evidence

The summary is understandable to someone working outside History.

The student assumes some knowledge of the Second World War (e.g. what the Holocaust was, who Hitler and Himmler were), which seems reasonable. Note however, that brief background information is provided about lesser figures - those who one would not assume are known to a generalist audience:

"Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker - two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time..."

"Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery"

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