RESPONSE PAPER

Adapted from Tips on Writing a Good Response Paper
Shane Hamilton & Response/Reaction Paper (Duke University)
In your response paper any approach you wish to take is fine, as long as it demonstrates your
comprehension of the material and your ability to think critically about it, and takes up 1 to 2
pages of double-spaced, 12pt text. Good response papers will help you become a better reader
and writer, and they will also help make discussions lively and focused.
Writing good response papers is more demanding than it might appear at first. It is not simply a
matter of reading the text, understanding it, and expressing an opinion about it. You must allow
yourself enough time to be clear about what each text says and how the texts all relate to one
another. In other words, response papers require you to synthesize the intellectual work of
others—that is, bring it together into an integrated whole. In preparing to write response papers,
therefore, it is crucial that you allow yourself not just enough time to do the readings but enough
to digest what you have read and to put the results together into a unified account.
To write a really good response paper, keep in mind the following:
• When you’re doing the reading, take notes. Highlighting is not a good way to take notes. In
other words, annotate—something which we have discussed in class. You should write, on a
separate piece of paper, paraphrases of the author’s key arguments as well as your own
thoughts about the reading. These notes will not only help you write good responses, but will
really help you with the formal papers.
• Don’t waste space summarizing the authors’ arguments. It is very important that you
demonstrate that you understand what the author is trying to communicate, but you
can do this very briefly. The most important part of a response paper is your response—that is,
what did you think of these readings? What did you find interesting, wrong-headed, surprising,
or thought-provoking about the readings? If there is no analysis involved, then you have not
responded, only regurgitated.
• You can respond to one reading or you can bring more than one reading into conversation with
each other by formulating a response to the connection between the readings, a comparison of
the readings, or a critique of the readings, etc. If responding to just one text, you might need to
situate it within the larger context of class discussions, readings, etc. If you are responding to
multiple texts, you must also discover how the texts relate to one another.
• Do not write an autobiographical essay. Reaction/response papers are not about how you
feel—even how you feel about the texts. They are not simply a venue for you to say
whether you like or dislike the texts. Give praise or blame where you think it is due, but
avoid commendation or condemnation for its own sake.

2

Questions to Ask
Consider texts individually:
! What is the main problem or issue that the author is addressing?
! What is the author’s central claim, argument, or point?
! What assumptions does the author make?
! What evidence does the author present?
! What are the strengths and weaknesses of the text?
! What are possible counterarguments to the text’s claims?
! Why are the problem(s) and the argument(s) interesting or important?
Consider texts collectively:
! How do they relate to one another? Do the authors agree? Disagree? Address
different aspects of an issue? Formulate a problem in different ways?
! In what way (if any) does the information or argument of one text strengthen or
weaken the argument of others? Does integrating the claims in two or more of the
texts advance your understanding of a larger issue?
Actions to Take
! Explain the key terms, main arguments, and assumptions of each text.
! Do your best to characterize each text’s arguments fairly and accurately.
! Evaluate the evidence that each text presents: point out strengths and weaknesses, both
internal to the text and in relation to the others. For example, if one text makes an
argument based on an assumption that another text either confirms or refutes, then you
can use the latter text to evaluate the plausibility of the claim made by the former.
! Explain how the texts relate to and “speak” to one another. Synthesize them if you can,
and if you cannot, explain what the barriers preventing such a synthesis are.
! Consider both sides of issues at stake. If all the texts are on one side of an issue, consider
the other side. If the texts fall on both sides of an issue, consider where agreements and
disagreements lie and what each side’s strengths and weaknesses are.
! Include your own voice by weighing arguments, evaluating evidence, and raising critical
questions. If there seems to be something important that none of the authors addresses,
point it out and state what you think its significance is. Try to be as specific as possible.
! Accord each text the weight it deserves. Don’t forget to synthesize your account by showing
how the texts relate to one another. The authors are in a figurative, if not literal, “conversation”
with one another, and you must be able to recognize and explain what is going on in that
conversation.
! Keep an eye out for authors’ omissions, and raise counterarguments when you detect
authors’ arguments are weak.

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