The Response-to-Literature Essay
by Owen Fourie
~ Part Two ~
In Part One of this article, we considered the difference between the summary essay and the response essay, your choice of a focal point, and the questions that you need to ask in order to develop support for your thesis. In this second part, we’ll look at what is needed in the introduction, the body, and the conclusion of your essay. There is a point about paragraphing at the end of this post.
Write the Introduction
In the introduction, you need to do five things:
- In a complete sentence, state the title, the author, the publisher, and the date of publication.
- In a brief statement (one sentence, if possible) tell what is the gist of the work. (Examples of points 1 and 2 are given in “How Do I Write a Summary Essay?”)
- Briefly describe what you have chosen to critique, for example, the background issues that prompted the writing;
- State your thesis;
- Enumerate the points through which you will develop your critique. (In the correct procedure, you will have completed an outlinewhere your major points are listed.)
Compose the body
As you proceed to the body paragraphs, you develop your critique using the points on your outline. If you have four major points that make up your critique, you should devote at least one paragraph to each one.
Let’s say that you have an assignment to respond to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and you have chosen to deal with the background issues that prompted the writing and the author’s purpose.
Perhaps your thesis would state that Dickens succeeded in using the situation in France in the mid to late eighteenth century to awaken the minds of his readers to the conditions in England seventy years after the French Revolution. This is a valid thesis even though such a revolution did not occur in England as Dickens and others feared it might.
(The suggestion of this thesis is simply for the purpose of illustration in this article. Ideally, you should always take as your thesis statement something that is far less obvious, something that has escaped the attention of others.)
In the body of your essay, you would devote one paragraph to the historical issues, another to the economic conditions, the third to the politics, and the last to the social situation. You would be looking at these four categories as they occurred earlier in France and as they were found in the author’s time and place in England seventy years or so later. You would also be careful to provide supporting evidence for each claim that you make. In this way and by your research, you would set out to prove your thesis, which is your opinion and your response to this particular piece of literature.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Wrap it up
Unlike the summary essay where you do not have a conclusion apart from the resolution of the plot you have described, a response essay requires your conclusion. Be sure to do the following:
- Refer to your outline to check that you have covered all the points in your writing;
- Reduce the substance of your major points to a brief summary for your conclusion;
- Restate your thesis and affirm that you have succeeded in proving it by the points you have made;
- Give your overall impression of the work;
- Try to tie the whole essay together in a final sentence that could perhaps state the relevance of the novel’s message and your thesis to our time.
I would like to conclude this post with a brief consideration of paragraphing. This concerns all your academic writing, so its relevance is not confined to the response essay.
If you observe carefully, you will note the difference between the older type of literature and writing today particularly as you find it on the Internet and especially in blogs. It is the difference in the length and structure of paragraphs.
In the older literature, you will see that the paragraphs are generally longer and correctly formed with an opening topic sentence followed by supporting sentences and concluding with a transitional sentence to the substance of the next paragraph. Each paragraph develops a particular point.
The way paragraphing is done now is not necessarily correct. Paragraphs tend to be short and sometimes contain only one sentence. This is done quite deliberately to make the task of reading easier with plenty of white space. This serves to encourage the reader to get through the text. Longer paragraphs seem to make reading a hard task.
For your academic writing, however, you are expected to write longer paragraphs that focus on a point–a topic–that is developed logically to a conclusion that leads into the next point in a new paragraph. Do not take the present trend in paragraphing as a guide for your academic writing.
What is your experience with writing response-to-literature essays? Do you have any useful insights? What are your particular struggles? What is the level of prescribed reading that must be completed in your institution before a student is required to write a response-to-literature essay? Which form of paragraphing do you find easier to read–the older literary style or the shorter form that you see in blogs? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.
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Writing a Reaction or Response Essay
Reaction or response papers are usually requested by teachers so that you'll consider carefully what you think or feel about something you've read. The following guidelines are intended to be used for reacting to a reading although they could easily be used for reactions to films too. Read whatever you've been asked to respond to, and while reading, think about the following questions.
- How do you feel about what you are reading?
- What do you agree or disagree with?
- Can you identify with the situation?
- What would be the best way to evaluate the story?
Keeping your responses to these questions in mind, follow the following prewriting steps.
Prewriting for Your Reaction PaperThe following statements could be used in a reaction/response paper. Complete as many statements as possible, from the list below, about what you just read.
I think that
I see that
I feel that
It seems that
In my opinion,
A good quote is
What you've done in completing these statements is written a very rough reaction/response paper. Now it needs to be organized. Move ahead to the next section.
Organizing Your Reaction PaperA reaction/response paper has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
- The introduction should contain all the basic information in one or two paragraphs.
Sentence 1: This sentence should give the title, author, and publication you read.
Sentence 2, 3, and sometimes 4:
These sentences give a brief summary of what you read (nutshell) Sentence 5: This sentence is your thesis statement. You agree, disagree, identify, or evaluate.
- Your introduction should include a concise, one sentence, focused thesis. This is the focused statement of your reaction/response. More information on thesis statements is available.
- The body should contain paragraphs that provide support for your thesis. Each paragraph should contain one idea. Topic sentences should support the thesis, and the final sentence of each paragraph should lead into the next paragraph.
Topic Sentence detail -- example --quotation --detail -- example -- quotation -- detail -- example -- quotation -- detail -- example --quotation Summary Sentence
You can structure your paragraphs in two ways:
OR Author in contrast to You
- The conclusion can be a restatement of what you said in your paper. It also be a comment which focuses your overall reaction. Finally, it can be a prediction of the effects of what you're reacting to. Note: your conclusion should include no new information.
More information on strategies for writing conclusions is available.
SummaryIn summary, this handout has covered prewriting and organizing strategies for reaction/response papers.
- Read the article and jot down ideas.
- How do you feel about what was said?
- Do you agree or disagree with the author?
- Have you had any applicable experience?
- Have you read or heard anything that applies to this what the writer said in the article or book?
- Does the evidence in the article support the statements the writer made?
- Write the thesis statement first.
- Decide on the key points that will focus your ideas. These will be your topic sentences.
- Develop your ideas by adding examples, quotations, and details to your paragraphs.
- Make sure the last sentence of each paragraph leads into the next paragraph.
- Check your thesis and make sure the topic sentence of each paragraph supports it.
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This handout was written by Kathleen Cahill and revised for LEO by Judith Kilborn, the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.
Updated: 6 April 1999