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Helpful Guide to Writing a Reaction Paper

Writing a response or reaction paper means the writer should analyze a given text and then write a commentary about it. Reaction papers are popular assignments in academic circles because they require reading, research, and writing. The following tips are designed to teach you the art of writing reaction papers.

Active Reading and the Prewriting Stage

Know why you are writing your paper

Students are often assigned a response or reaction paper as an opportunity to carefully consider their thoughts and feelings about a text they have read. If this happens to you, you will first need to evaluate the strong and weak points of the text, and consider if the author accomplishes his or her objectives and, if so, how well they did it. Reaction papers are not merely an expression of the writer’s opinion. Rather, a paper of this type requires careful reading of a given text - the type of reading that goes below the surface. The writer is expected to respond or react to implied rather than expressed ideas, and then to analyze, valuate, and elaborate on the key points of the text and the purpose of the author. In most cases, reaction papers use the first person perspective (e.g., “I”).

When responding, you should use evidence from the given text to support your thoughts and ideas as well as providing your own thoughts and ideas on it. If your task is to agree or to disagree, you should use persuasive evidence to support your particular viewpoint.

If you are asked to respond to several texts, look at how these texts are connected. When giving your response to a single text, you should probably link that text to broad themes and concepts covered in class.

You may be given these assignments for lectures, lab activities, site trips, movies, or even on things you discussed in class.

Reaction papers do not just sum-up a text. Neither do they simply state that the writer liked or disliked a book because it was (respectively) interesting or boring.

Understand what is being asked in the assignment

Before beginning, you need to understand what it is exactly your professor or tutor wants. Some tutors require you to analyze or evaluate a text and thus react to it. Others require your personal reaction.

In the event you are not sure, ask your tutor for clarification.

If you are required to react to a text in relation to a separate text, you will need to use quotes from each text in your paper.

If you are required to react to some theme from your class (e.g. you are required to read a text about gender roles in a Sociology class), you should read, make notes, and react according to how these roles are dealt with in the book.

It may be that you are asked to give your personal reaction to the text in question.

This method is not as common but, sometimes, tutors want to see if students have read and thought about a text.

  • Read the assigned text immediately

To write a successful reaction paper, one should not merely read a text, give their opinion, and submit their paper. Rather, they should synthesize the given texts, a task that involves pulling the content together in order to analyze and/or evaluate it. To do this properly, you need to allow sufficient time to read and digest the content in order to combine your thoughts and ideas  

One common mistake among students is leaving the reading and reacting process to the final hour. However, reactions require a significant amount of consideration after several readings.  

Many texts need to be re-read several times. The first reading is for familiarization purposes and after that to think about your reaction(s) and the assignment itself.

  • Make a note of your first reactions

After the first reading, and after every subsequent reading, write down your first reactions.

After reading, ask yourself what you think, what you feel, what you see, what seems to be the case, and what your opinion of the text is.

  • Mark the text while you are reading

While reading or re-reading the text, mark relevant parts or make annotations in the margins so that it is easy to find quotes, important parts of the plot, and other elements later. Failure to do this will make it difficult to write a cohesive paper.

  • Questions to ask while you are reading

While reading, there are certain questions you should ask. This is the start of the evaluation and reaction process. The following are a few example questions:

What main point does the author make?

What are the problems/issues the author tries to address?

Does the author make any assumptions or valid points and how do they support these?

Can you identity any strong and/or weak points? Are there any problems in the author’s arguments?

In the case of multiple texts, how do these relate to each other and to the ideas or themes of your class?

Creating the First Draft of Your Reaction Essay

Begin by writing free-flow. Just write down any first reactions or thoughts you have as a result of your evaluation. Say what it is you believe the author is attempting to achieve and indicate if you agree or if you disagree, and explain your reasons. Writing freely is an excellent way to begin putting thoughts and ideas onto paper and overcoming first-stage writer’s block.

On completion, read what you have written. Decide what your best and most realistic reactions are, and give priority to the various points.

  • Decide what angle you will take

It is essential for a reaction paper to evaluate a text and take a critical view in order to prevent it being a mere summary. After writing freely for a while, think about what angle you will take and continue asking the above questions as you write.

Consider why the article or story’s author wrote as they did. Why did they choose this particular structure? In what way does their work relate to the wider world?

  • Decide what your thesis will be

Once the free-writing part is complete and you have chosen an angle, this can now be developed into a strong argument. Based on your reading, what are your most interesting points? Say why these points are important and interesting. This will be the heart of your paper. Combine all your observations, points and opinions into one provable claim, which will form your thesis.

This thesis will comprise of a single statement that says what will be criticized, analysed or proved in your paper. Your thesis will help keep your paper in focus. 

  • Your paper will need to be organized

A reaction paper should adhere to the same format as any standard essay. This means it will need an introductory paragraph, some body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. Each of the body paragraphs should set out your reaction to a different part of the text and support the thesis. Bring all reactions together so that you eventually have a few common-themed topics to form paragraphs.

If, for instance, you want to react to a book’s theme(s), the paragraphs can be split to show how the text succeeds or fails to convey these themes.

  • Collect a few appropriate quotations

Once your thoughts and ideas are arranged into suitable paragraphs, a few quotations will be needed to support your various points. All claims must be supported with textual evidence. Use any suitable quotes you annotated earlier.

Introduce quotes into your paragraphs, and then analyze and provide commentary on these.

  • Your paragraphs will need to be properly structured

A topic sentence should be used to start each paragraph off. Next, you need to determine paragraph structure. You could begin with something the author said followed by your reaction to this, whether it is similar or contrasting.   

An effective paragraph structure: details first, followed by quotation or example, and lastly evaluation and commentary.

Writing a Final or Initial Draft

  • Begin by writing an introduction

Your introduction paragraph should indicate the text’s title, the author’s name, and say what your paper will focus on. If desired or required, you can also include the name of the parent publication if applicable and the publication year. It is also advisable to mention your topic and purpose.

The thesis forms the last sentence or two of an introductory paragraph.

  • Check that you have taken a stance throughout the paragraphs

While reaction papers do not always specifically ask for a personal opinion, it is important you analyze, evaluate, and critique the text, and not merely stick to the factual elements.

Identify places to report what is in the text rather than evaluating or critiquing what it says.

  • Explain the wider implications of the chosen text for the benefit of others

An effective way to evaluate and analyze a particular text is to link it to concepts covered in your class. Does it compare well to other authors, texts, eras, or themes? 

When asked to state your own opinion, it may be best to do this in the concluding paragraph. Some tutors allow personal opinion in an essay’s body paragraphs. Check this with your tutor.

  • Check your paper for length and clarity

Because many reaction papers are short (i.e. anything from a 500-word essay to five pages), you want to avoid yours being overly long. So, re-read your paper carefully to ensure directions have been followed. 

Check your paper for clarity. Make sure all sentences are clear, that all points are properly supported and argued, and that there are no confusing parts. 

  • Remember to spell-check and proofread your paper

When proofreading, check for punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes as well as issues with verb/tense agreement, sentence run-ons, etc.

  • Have you addressed the assignment’s questions properly?

Check the instructions you were given once again. If you are sure you have complied with everything, then your paper is ready to hand in.



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