Response essays are academic exercises in which the student is asked to communicate a personal opinion, often informed by research, on a book or other reading. Well-crafted response essays will connect some personal experience with the reading in question. Rather than being a summary or simple book review, a response essay engages with the text, a thoughtful reflection on experience with the reading.
The bulk of any response essay is the student’s personal opinions regarding the article or book in question. By examining what you agreed and disagreed with, response essays seek to persuade the reader of the validity of one’s experiences with the text. Many response essays are expected to be written in the first person.
The steps involved in writing a coherent response essay include the following:
- Begin by actually reading the text in question. This provides an initial impression and understanding.
- It helps to read the piece a second time, this time writing down any thoughts, questions, or other engagements with the text. These notes will allow a student to begin to formulate a thesis and direction for the essay.
- Formal writing of response essays then proceeds along the standard format:
- An introductory paragraph with strong hook and thesis
- Body paragraphs in which one’s argument is supported by evidence
- A strong conclusion. With honest effort, any student can construct good response essays.
Keep in mind, the principal challenges for a response essay are organization and development.
- Organization: You will likely have more than one response to (or idea about) the text you choose. Thus, you will need to decide what your main point is and subordinate secondary points to that main idea.
- Development: To develop your paper successfully you will need to discuss specifics from the textwithout letting your paper become a long summary. You will also need to work out the implications of your ideas. If you claim, for instance, that a text is relevant, or illuminating, or boring, etc., you will need to think about (and discuss) just what we mean when we talk about relevance, or illumination, or boredom. A bit differently, you may also want to consider how the text tries to influence its readers (rhetorically) and whether wrestling with the text has changed your thinking about any of the ideas or issues it brings up.