Let’s say you and your pals have just watched the latest superhero movie, and one of your friends asks, “So what did ya think?” Your response might be something like, “It was awesome! I loved the fight scenes and the CGI!” Or you might respond, “Man, that sucked! The story didn’t even make sense!”
Now let’s say you’re assigned a response paper. Your first thought would be to write something similar, right? You think you’d write your response—what you liked or didn’t like about a movie or article.
You might think that, but you’d be wrong.
A response paper doesn’t simply express your opinion. It’s an analytical essay that presents an informed response to a work, such as an article, book, movie, or play.
If you already feel lightheaded and are experiencing shortness of breath because you have no idea how to move from a basic opinion to an analytical analysis, don’t panic just yet.
Consider me a one-woman Emergency Response Team.
I’m here to stabilize you and explain what you need to know to learn how to write a response paper that will get a great response from your prof.
What to Avoid in a Response Paper
As an emergency response professional, I’m here to tell you that there are things you definitely should not do when writing a response paper.
WARNING: Engaging in the following writing strategies can be dangerous and/or harmful to your response essay grade. Use only by permission of your instructor.
Don’t read the article only once
Reading an article only once will give you a general idea about the author’s arguments, sure. But you won’t get a complete understanding on the first read. Trust me, read it a few times (and take some notes as you do). You’ll be happy you did.
Don’t focus on summary
Remember, this is a response essay. If you’re writing a summary, you’re simply reporting back the information. It doesn’t mean you’re responding. It’s okay to include a brief section of summary within your paper, but the focus should be response.
Don’t write about how you feel
In the world of academia and response essays, your feelings (whether you loved it or hated it) aren’t the point. Think academically. You need to analyze and respond to what you’ve read. (I’ll explain more about this later.)
Don’t write in first person
In rare cases, your prof might allow you to use first person. Usually, though, you’ll see lots of red ink if you use first person. Follow standard academic format and stick with third person.
Okay, now that you have been officially instructed on what not to do, here’s what you need to do to write a super response essay.
How to Write a Response Paper That Will Get a Great Response
Take a few deep breaths. Relax. Things are going to be fine. I’ve come prepared with my Emergency Response Kit and am here to help you through how to write a response paper.
DIRECTIONS: Apply the following writing strategies to your response paper (unless otherwise directed by your instructor).
Identify the focus and key arguments
Highlight or underline the key arguments of the article. Think about:
- The purpose of the article.
- The point the author is trying to make.
- What arguments and evidence the author uses to support his arguments. (Remember, read the article a few times to make sure you understand the author’s arguments. Try taking notes as you read to help you remember the important stuff.)
Analyze the evidence
Once you’ve identified the arguments, take a look at the evidence the author uses to support those arguments.
- Does he provide ample evidence?
- Does he fail to include sufficient evidence to make a compelling case?
Here’s a quick example: If the author argues that Superman: The Movie is the best classic superhero movie ever but only supports the argument with the fact that he’s a huge Christopher Reeve fan, the author hasn’t exactly supported his argument.
In this case, the author would need to provide additional evidence. He might, for instance, discuss the acting, characters, plot, directing, or special effects in order to support an argument of Superman: The Movie being the best classic superhero movie of all time.
Decide how you’ll respond
Once you have a better understanding of the key arguments of the article, you’ll need to decide how you feel about what the author has said. Remember, this isn’t a love it or hate it type response; this is an analytical response.
You’ll need to consider how the writer develops his arguments and how the writer uses language to get his point across.
Here are some questions to ask as you start to develop your response.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments?
- Does the author provide sufficient evidence to support the arguments?
- Does the author address possible counterarguments (and refute counterarguments)?
- Does the author fail to address any key concerns or arguments?
- Is the author convincing?
- What is the tone of the article? Is it serious, sarcastic, or funny?
- How does the author use language? Is the article formal or informal in word choices?
- Does the author use emotional or logical appeals?
I know it can be tempting to gloss over these questions and start writing.
Don’t do it.
Use these questions as a prewriting strategy. Take the time to write down the answers to the questions. Doing so will help you focus your ideas (and give you something to respond to!).
After prewriting, it’s always a good idea to outline your ideas before you begin drafting. This will give you a road map to follow. It will also make the writing process that much more efficient.
Once your outline is in place, get writing!
Writing the response essay
Don’t hit the panic button. A response essay is a lot like any other academic essay: you need a strong introduction, body, and conclusion.
Here are a few tips on how to write a response paper that focus on what to include in your essay.
What to include in the introduction
The introduction to your response paper should include:
- The title and author of the article you’re responding to.
- A one- or two-sentence summary of the article you’re writing about.
- The thesis statement. In a response paper, the thesis statement should focus on your stance (what you want to say about the article). The thesis statement should not be a summary of the key arguments of the article you’re writing about.
Ineffective thesis: In this article, the writer talks about why Superman: The Movie is the best movie ever.
Effective thesis: Though Cooper claims that Superman: The Movie is the best superhero ever made, his arguments are flimsy. He provides no real evidence as to why the movie shouldn’t be relegated to the bargain bins of yesterday.
What to include in body paragraphs
As you draft the body of your paper, remember the importance of evidence! You need evidence to effectively support your arguments.
Good evidence includes examples and quotes from the article. Choose ideas that stand out. Don’t just choose a quote because you’re supposed to. Make them count!
For instance, let’s say an author writes a statement about Superman: The Movie being an amazing film because Christopher Reeve is the star. You might summarize or quote the statement to highlight the fact that this is the only real evidence the author provides to support why he believes the movie is so great.
What to include in the conclusion
The conclusion of a response essay is pretty standard. You should sum up the main points of your paper and wrap up your essay.
Don’t forget, though, that a response essay is a response to another person’s work. This means that you should again remind readers of the title and author of the article you’re responding to as you write your conclusion.
Before Resuming Normal Activities
Even though you’re now in pretty good shape, it’s not yet safe to resume your normal activities (like playing video games, eating, sleeping, and binge-watching movies).
You still need to put the finishing touches on your paper. To do that, check out these helpful resources:
- 97 Transition Words for Essays You Need to Know
- 3 Types of Essay Support That Prove You Know Your Stuff
- How to Write Good Essay Titles That Are…Good
Still feeling faint? Think your paper is in need of a little first aid? Let the specialists (our Kibin editors) take a look at your paper!