How to get started on your response paper

Here are some step-by-step instructions for how to get started with your response paper. Note that response papers may look different in different disciplines and that you should always follow instructions you have received from your teacher.

Step 1: Pre-writing activities

Before you start writing, you need to do some preparatory work. As you read the text(s) on which you are to base your response paper, mark sections that strike you as important and make notes of how you think you will be able to use these passages. One way of doing that is to keep a reading journal where you write down your reactions to the texts that you read and any questions the texts raise. These notes will help you decide what to focus on in your response paper.

Step 2: Deciding on a topic

When deciding what to write about, look at your notes, your underlinings, etc. One way of finding a suitable topic is to ask questions about the text(s) you have read and to establish what interests you in the text(s):

  • What was significant?
  • What do I remember?
  • What did I react to?
  • Was there something I did not understand?

Step 3: Starting to write: Open with an introductory paragraph

When you have decided what to focus on, write an introductory passage where you introduce the text(s). Here, you tell the reader which text(s) by which author(s) you will discuss. In this paragraph, you should also clearly state what you will focus on in your response paper.

Make sure that the title of your response paper is informative.

Step 4: Writing the body of the response paper

After the introductory paragraph comes the body of the text, which is the part of the response paper where you discuss the topic you have chosen. Divide your response paper into paragraphs and start a new paragraph when you bring up something new. Since the response paper is a short paper, there is usually no need for headings in the text.

The following questions can be used to help you structure your response paper. Note that you need to show how you respond / react to the text(s) that you discuss.

  • How can the issue(s) you focus on be connected to society / today's world / other texts that you may have read?
  • If you write about several texts: How do the texts relate to each other? Can you identify some overlapping aspects or striking differences? Do the texts present different perspectives on a particular issue?

Step 5: Writing the conclusion

End your response paper with a concluding paragraph, where you sum up what you have said and draw conclusions. Like the introduction, the conclusion should be brief – a few sentences will usually do in a short response paper.

Step 6: Formal aspects

Although a response paper might be more personal than other kinds of academic essays, you will probably be expected to follow general rules of essay writing. There is advice on AWELU on how and when to revise texts once you have drafted them:

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