shortcut to content
Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

English Writing Projects

Page address:

English Writing Projects: The Response or Reaction Paper

Return to main English Writing Projects page

This is the most common type of assignment. In a way, it's exactly what it sounds like—a personal response to what your instructor has asked you to read, or what you've viewed on a video shown in class, or what you've heard from a visiting speaker or a lecture by your instructor.

Some Expectations for the Response Paper

  • Focus—to do well on this assignment, you need to have read or listened to or viewed the focus of the assignment carefully. That reading will be the source for your response paper.
  • Support—you need to use the stuff of the reading to support some of your reactions to it; you need to ground your reaction on examples, details, evidence that is enclosed in what you've read. You need to steer clear of generalizations or responding solely from emotion—that's the stuff that bad or misled editorials to the Free Press are made of.
  • Shape—a response to what you've read requires that you reach an understanding about it that will shape your response. Just as in all of the writing you'll do for English 1C courses, you'll need to frame your response with an introduction that indicates your thesis, your reason for writing, and, perhaps, where you hope to be at the end of the paper.
  • Length—the finished form of the response paper will be pretty short—maybe 2 or 3 pages; but your instructor will expect you to have organized it clearly and to have edited it carefully.

Types of Evidence

  • The text, your primary evidence—for the most part, you'll be asked to support your response by using quotations or examples from your reading, or viewing, or listening as your evidence.
  • Personal evidence—your instructor could ask you to relate your own experience and observation to what you've read. That's another kind of primary source. If you use it, you'll need to invoke specific examples and details.
  • Outside (secondary) sources—it's less likely that a response paper will require a source beyond you and what you've read, but your instructor may want to get you to test what you've read by finding a newspaper article or other piece of information on the subject of your reading. You'll need to quote, paraphrase, and summarize what you've gotten from that other source

Using Your Evidence

  • Quotation—in the short type of paper you're writing here, long quotes don't make sense.
    Instead, short quotes—important phrases, key words, a major portion of a sentence will work better. Why quotes?—because they help you capture a writer's thesis, key points, an important statistic, all in the special way of phrasing things that the writer has used. You need to be careful about getting the writer's words correctly. And you to indicate that you're quoting by surrounding the quoted words with quotation marks.
  • Paraphrasing—you'll be using this one most frequently; when you do paraphrase, you're involved in an act of translation: from the words of your source to your words. You're not using quotation marks here, but you are using the ideas of another writer. And, when you are indebted to someone else for an idea or a fact or a statistic or a way of understanding things, you need to give that writer credit for his intellectual property. That's a good thing
  • Summarizing—in a 2-3 page paper, you probably won't be doing this. But it's possible that you'll find it useful to summarize a section or a paragraph of the material in what you've been reading. That summary is evidence you'll want to give your source credit for.

Citing Your Sources

  • Within your paper—you'll be using this in-text method most often. That is, the enclosure within parentheses of a short-hand notation of the source you're citing. This parenthetical citation will be included directly after the quote or paraphrase or summary you've used in your paper. Proper MLA format for in-text citations are located at Diana Hacker's web site.
  • Works cited—Your instructor may not ask for a formal bibliographic entry (Works Cited list) at the end of your response paper. If he does, use MLA format and Hacker's web site as a reference.
  • Substantive footnotes—there aren't lots of reasons for taking your reader out of the text you're writing anymore in order to read a footnote. Those reasons need to be significant, such as explanatory or bibliographic. Hacker's web site explains how to use MLA footnotes.

What's Valued in Response Papers...

  • A Clear Response—i.e., you've clearly got a reaction, an opinion
  • Interaction with what you're responding to—your reaction is supported by details and examples in the text
  • A Consistent Sense of what and why in the paper—you're responding to something specific, and you're using the text to demonstrate how and why you're responding as you are
  • Direction—you're using an introduction that clearly paves the way to the response, and transitions that guide us through your discussion.

...and What is NOT?

  • A response that remains on the emotional level (no support).
  • Using unsupported generalizations.
  • Avoiding or not using the text you're responding to.

Sample Assignments

Click here for sample assignments.

Sample Student Papers

Click here for sample student papers.

Top of Page