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How to Write a Response Paper in College

write a response paper

The chances are high that you will have to write at least one or two response papers per semester. Instructors love this format because it gives an insight into their students' critical thinking skills and shows how they engage with the course materials.

This is also a beneficial exercise for the future. You will have to deliver your informed and substantiated opinions in the workplace and other settings. And as you know, practice makes anything, if not perfect, then at least so much easier.

In this blog, we will explain how to write a critical response paper and how to tell the difference between a response paper, analysis essay, and reflection paper.

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What is Response Paper?

Response paper (or reaction paper) is a genre of academic writing describing your experience with a book, article, poem, or movie. It provides a short summary of the work you engaged with and your thoughts and opinions on it. It sounds very similar to a reflection paper, which sometimes confuses inexperienced paper writers. However, the focus is slightly different between the two types of assignment.

While a reflection paper is focused primarily on your opinions and feelings about the book or a film and how the latter changed your perspective, a response paper focuses more on analyzing the initial work. You still provide your thoughts, but they must be backed up by evidence and preceded by a comprehensive summary or the original and a formal assessment of it. Also, a response paper is more immediate. You share your reactions to a book, to a short story, or a film without deeply pondering over their larger implications for your worldview.

On the other hand, the response paper is more personal than an analysis paper. You don't have to be objective all the time. You are free to share your thoughts and you can use the first-person language. It helps if you see all three types of papers on a spectrum:

How to Write a Response Paper: Example Outline

Whether you are writing a response paper to an article, book, or movie, the good practice is to break your essay into two main parts: a summary of the work and your reaction to it. Remember all those viral reaction videos? They are only fun to watch if you know exactly what people in the frame are reacting to. Therefore, for an effective response paper, follow this approximate structure:

  1. Introduction:
    • Start with a strong introductory sentence to grab the attention of your readers. It can demonstrate the relevance of the main idea from the article/book/movie via reference to current events. It can be an informative sentence leading to your thesis statement. Alternatively, you can start straight from the thesis.
    • Give necessary identifying details about the work you are writing about: author, title, publication date, journal/magazine/other sources.
    • Another good place for a thesis for a response paper is at the end of your introduction. If you started with another type of an attention-grabber, now is the time to make your overall opinion of the work clear.
  2. Summary:
    • Summarize briefly to give the reader a gist of the main concepts.
    • Keep it factual and objective, wait for the second part of the paper to include your reactions to the presented ideas.
    • Use quotations sparingly, only if giving the direct quote will make it shorter than paraphrasing.
    • Format quotes parenthetically or as footnotes, depending on the course requirements – but do cite the work properly.
  3. Reaction:
    • This part depends mainly on whether your instructor gave you any directions or expectations about what you should focus your analysis on. If there are no prompt questions, try one of the following:
      • How does this work relate to issues discussed in the course?
      • How do the article/book/movie ideas relate to the current problems in the world?
      • How does this work relate to your personal experiences and ideas?
    • Give your evaluation of the material. How important are the issues explored? How accurate, complete, organized is the article/book/movie?
  4. Conclusion:
    • Based on your evaluation, tell whether you recommend this work to others. Why or why not?

How to Write a Good Response Paper: Tips and Advice

  1. Follow the usual pre-writing steps:
    • watch the movie/read the book to familiarize yourself with the source for the first time,
    • make notes on your first impressions – bookmark pages, jot down important phrases,
    • rewatch/reread the marked parts and ponder over them (why did they catch your attention?),
    • write down your thoughts on the source material and develop a thesis,
    • use the outline suggestion from above to flesh out your first draft.
  2. Unlike in objective analysis, It's okay to use first-person statements in a response paper: in my opinion, I liked/didn't like, I was moved by, it seemed to me, I didn't understand the part about, the notion is jarring/appealing to me because, etc.
  3. However, your comments should not be baseless. Your reactions and feelings should be backed up by evidence from the source material or specific reasons. Remember, it should be a critique, not a rant or gushing.
  4. All the standard requirements of good writing apply. Develop one main point per paragraph (clearness), make smooth and logical transitions between the paragraphs (coherence), focus your essay on one overarching theme (unity).
  5. Edit and proofread your paper for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Make sure there are no colloquialisms or overly bookish expressions that distract the reader from what youare saying.

Still can't figure out the nuances of the response paper? An example is the best way to see the subtle stylistic differences between similar college papers.

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