Depending on your program, you’ll likely become quite the essayist by the time you finish your undergrad degree. You will probably get used to writing essays that are formalized and structured a certain way, often written in the third person and based on the research you have found to support your argument.

However, there are some classes that may require a paper that is less formalized and more personal, aka, a Reading Response Paper! Most often response papers are written for arts and humanities courses, such as English or a film studies class, but they can be found in other courses as well.

Response papers are written in the first person and meant to capture your perspective about aspects of the piece you are reading, including the characters, plot, theme, and other noteworthy commentary taken from the narrative. These types of papers still require you to use text to support your thoughts and opinions, but do not require extensive external research. Instead, you’re using quotes and information from the piece you are responding to.

Part One: The Process

You may have a preference for how to begin, but we suggest removing distractions and reading/listening/watching the piece in its entirety before rereading and taking notes. This will provide you with an overall feel for the piece and you may find that your initial thoughts and feelings will change as you revisit the text.

Everyone’s note-taking process will vary, as some will prefer structure, some no structure, and some a combination of both.

  1. A structured note-taking process would have a set group of questions that you wish to uncover in the text, such as:
    1. What did you expect from reading the title? from the first sentence or paragraph?
    2. Can you summarize the plot?
    3. How is the story narrated?
    4. Where is the setting of the story?
  2. An unstructured approach is reading through the text and taking note of the information you find meaningful or noteworthy. You may highlight the characteristics of the protagonist or the symbolism of a certain object as you read through.
  3. And of course, there is the option to combine both processes, as you may find information that cannot be gleaned from one or the other alone.

After you’ve taken notes, start to incorporate your own thoughts and impressions into the process. You can consider aspects, such as whether you agree with the author, how you feel about the characters, or how this story reflects upon anything occurring in your own life. These thoughts and impressions will help when you begin to form your thesis and outline for the paper.

Actor David Tennant saying to another person “I’ll have to think of a fitting response to that.”

Part Two: Writing the Paper

Start with an outline of what you want to include in your paper, beginning with your thesis, which will help to guide your paper. This step is important because you want your paper to be organized, thoughtful, and create a better experience for the reader. It’ll not only make the writing process easier, but it will also help you to find any gaps in your argument.

The opening paragraph should briefly summarize the piece that you are responding to, including the title and author’s name, and provide a reader with the direction you are going to take by also including your thesis.

Following the opening paragraph, you will begin to craft your response and share with the reader your thoughts on the piece. What you write is completely based on your personal thoughts that you’ve gathered and will be supported by what you have read/watched/listened to. Remember to always back up what you’ve written by using direct examples from the source.

For example, if you believe that the main character feels neglected, causing them to act out negatively because their spouse ignores them and instead favours watching television, find an example of why you think this is so.

You’ll also want to ensure that you are writing clearly and concisely to best convey your point. If your point is unclear, you may be leaving it to the reader to interpret what it is you’re trying to say, which is not their job!

The character Erin from The Office saying “I don’t get it! I’m sorry, I just-I don’t get it!”

After you have written out your response, make sure you have left enough time to go back through and edit. Not just for spelling and grammar, but also to double check that you did not repeat yourself or any arguments. It can be beneficial to have another person take a look through your paper to help weed out any issues (or reassure you that you’ve done a great job!).

Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride says to Vizzini “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Happy writing!

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