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How to Write a Response Paper

Despite what it sounds like, writing a response paper is more than simply writing down your personal reactions to a text. A response paper is actually very similar to an analytical essay. The difference is that you can use the first person to describe your own emotional responses and subjective opinions (“I felt,” “I liked,” etc.). The point is to use your responses in order to think critically about a text. A text produced a certain response. How did it achieve that effect? Why did you think or feel that way? You’ll need to read the text more than once, and probably several times. If you follow these basic steps, writing a response paper can be a fun, rewarding exercise. 

  1. Initial reading: Observe your own reactions. Did anything produce a strong positive or negative effect on you? Was anything confusing or intriguing?
  2. Reread while taking notes: Pay close attention to those parts of the text that you responded to in the first reading. Ask questions about how those parts work. How do they relate to the rest of the text? Is there a pattern or a theme here that isn’t apparent on the first reading? You might need to go to a dictionary to look up particular words. You might need to look up historical events or people. Think of yourself as a detective. Everything in a text has potential meaning. Everything is a clue.
  3. Create a Thesis: Now that you’ve assembled the evidence, it’s time to solve the case. There aren’t really any wrong answers here, as long as you remember that all of your claims need to be supported by evidence in the text. It might be difficult to come up with a thesis at first, so do some brainstorming. Write down all of your ideas, even incomplete ones. At this point it might be helpful to reread the text, or at least parts of it. Narrow down and refine your ideas. The best thesis will be the one with most evidence from the text.
  4. Create an outline: The first paragraph will introduce the author and the work, summarize what it was about, and end with your thesis statement.  The body will give the evidence for your reading. Each paragraph is devoted to a single key point. The last paragraph should summarize the evidence and restate the thesis.

Posted by January 25th, 2013