Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
Reading Response Essays
Summarize what you read.
Give your reaction to the text.
Your reaction will be one or more of the following:
- Agreement/disagreement with the ideas in the text.
- Reaction to how the ideas in the text relate to your own experience.
- Reaction to how ideas in the text relate to other things you've read.
- Your analysis of the author and audience.
- Your evaluation of how this text tries to convince the reader and whether it is effective.
How to Write Your Introduction
Your introduction will be 1–3 paragraphs. For this essay, because you want to give both information about the subject and also briefly summarize the article you are responding to, you probably need at least two paragraphs. In all introductions, you want to:
- Get the reader’s attention.
- Describe your subject.
- Give your thesis.
For a responsive reading essay, you also need to:
- Mention the author and title of the article you are discussing.
- Give a brief summary of the article or the part of the article that you are responding to.
Paragraph One. Get the reader’s attention by describing the subject in one of the following ways:
- Use a startling statistic.
- Cite an interesting fact.
- Pose an appropriate quotation.
- Tell an anecdote.
- Describe a scenario.
- Write a conversation.
- Tell a story.
- Put forth a question your essay will answer.
- Give an example.
- Explain general information about the topic.
Using a Frame for Your Introduction and Conclusion
One of my favorite techniques is to use a “frame” story or conversation for the opening and the conclusion. The way this works is that you tell half of a story or conversation in the introduction and then tell the rest of the story in the conclusion. Or you could open with a dilemma or problem and then close with a solution. Another approach is to retell the same story in the conclusion with a different (usually better) ending. Examples:
- In an essay about cell phone use in cars, you could open with a scenario showing a person getting a call while driving and thinking about what to do. In the conclusion, you could tell the end of the scenario—maybe the driver pulls over to take the call or decides to let voicemail take it.
- In an essay about dealing with a family member with Alzheimer’s, you could open with a conversation between family members trying to figure out what to do and conclude with a conversation between the same people after they have decided to place that person in a nursing home.
- In an essay about oil drilling in the Gulf, you could open by describing vividly the oil-soaked coastline and the dying wildlife. You could conclude with what that coastline looks like now.
- On any topic in which you have personal experience, you can open with part of your story, and then conclude with the ending of your story.
"How to Become a Republican." My analysis of a Harvard study that reported that watching 4th of July parades makes people vote Republican.
A reader response about Chris Adrian's article "Under My Skin" from The New York Times.
A response paper to "Let's Stop Scaring Ourselves" by Michael Crichton.
Introduction and Conclusion Ideas
frame story: start a story (personal or from reading)
finish the story
expectations fulfilled: tell what you expected or thought before reading the article
tell how the reading met your expectations
expectations unfulfilled: describe your expectations
tell how these were overturned or changed
questions: ask one or more questions about topic
answers to questions
startling statistic or fact
how article helps us understand or interpret this fact or statistics
vivid description of subject with sensory images
tell how article helps us understand description
scenario: show a typical scene or conversation relating to topic (real or made up)
finish scene or conversation or repeat it with a different ending
what we all know about topic (statements most people believe)
what is really true
quote or famous saying
how quote explains your thesis
Writing Your Thesis Statement
Paragraph 2: After your introduction, transition by explaining what the author of the article you have written has to say about this topic. Briefly explain the main points of the article that you want to talk about. Then you will give your thesis.
Example: According to Mary Johnson in “Cell Phones are Dangerous,” we should not use our phones while driving and should educate others not to use them either. Johnson gives statistics showing that talking on a cell phone is as dangerous as driving drunk. Moreover, she points out the increasing number of accidents caused by cell phone use. Her conclusion is that we need to personally decide not to use a cell phone while driving and that we need to educate our friends and family to give up cell phones while driving, too.
Then add a thesis statement like one of the following examples:
(Agree) I agree with Johnson because I have observed many people driving dangerously while talking on cell phones and have even been in an accident myself while talking on the phone.
(Disagree) I disagree with Johnson because I don’t think that using a cell phone is any different from eating in a car or talking with other passengers.
Then reflect and expand:
(Reflect on author’s experience) I believe Johnson has come to her conclusions because of her own traumatic experiences while using a cell phone while driving. (Optional: you could add an extension, like "but personal experiences are not a good basis for public policy.")
(Expand on an assertion made in the essay) I agree with Johnson’s assertion that cell phones are dangerous, but I’d go even further than she does because I think we cannot control this problem by merely educating the public. We need to have laws prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving.
Writing Your Response
Here are six different ways to respond to an essay:
- You can agree with the article and explain three or more reasons why you agree.
- You can disagree with the article and explain three or more reasons why.
- You can agree with some parts of the article and disagree with other parts and explain why.
- You can analyze the rhetorical situation (occasion, purpose, audience, and context) of this article and explain why the author’s personal experience causes them to write this piece.
- You can take one part of the essay, agreeing or disagreeing with it, and expand on that idea, giving reasons for your reader to agree with you.
- You can explain your reaction to the article and then analyze how the writer’s style, tone, word choice, and examples made you feel that way.
Remember that all essays have three main parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. There are many ways to write a good essay, but I will give you a general guide to follow which will help you to organize your ideas.
How to Write the Body
Here you will argue your thesis and give support for your ideas from your personal experience and your own thinking and reading. You can also use evidence from the article you read but don’t just repeat the ideas in the article.
- The body of your paper should have three or more paragraphs.
- Each paragraph should have a topic sentence that communicates one response idea you have about the paper such as, "I agree with Jones that _________" or "My personal experience makes me relate to _____ because _______".
- The rest of the paragraph should give details to back up that point. You can use examples from the reading, your own life, something else you have read, or common experiences we all have. You can also use reasoning to prove your points. Explain why you think this way.
- Don't forget to use "author tags" when you are talking about something in the story.
- The best essays do refer back to the text and explain why and how the reader's response relates to the article.
How to Cite Your Sources Using Author Tags
The first time you talk about the article, you should give the full name of the author and the title of the article in parenthesis: John Jones in his article, “Taking Back Our Lives,” states _________.”
- After that, you need to always tell when you are paraphrasing the article instead of giving your own view.
- Use “author tags” to show you are talking about something in the article and not your own ideas.
- Author tags use the last name of the author and a verb. Try these variations:
For more on using author tags, see my article "Other Words for Said." A sample list is below.
Other Words for "Said"
How to Write Your Conclusion
Contrary to what you may have learned in previous writing classes, you should not repeat or summarize your arguments in the conclusion. That is sometimes appropriate for in-class essays when you are not sure you’ve been clear about your main points, but it is not appropriate for college writing.
Instead, you need to actually conclude your arguments. You can often use the same type of technique that you use in an introduction. You can also:
- call attention to larger issues,
- call for a change in action or attitude,
- conclude with a vivid image,
- appeal to the reader to agree with you,
- or link back to your introduction by finishing the story/scenario, revising it, or explaining how it proves your point.
Sample Student Essay: Cell Phones Are Dangerous
This is a sample reading response essay to an article titled “Cell Phones are Dangerous" by Mary Johnson, agreeing with the article and extending one of the ideas.
Paragraph 1: Dramatic re-telling of a personal story of picking up my cell phone and then realizing that I am going to crash into another car. Stop the story right before the crash.
Paragraph 2: Like most people, I thought I was a good enough driver to handle using a cell phone while driving. I found out I was wrong. It turns out I’m not unusual. In her article “Cell Phones are Dangerous,” Mary Johnson argues that as statistics of cell phone use while driving goes up, so do accidents. According to Johnson, we should not use our phones while driving and should educate others not to use them either. Johnson cites statistics showing that talking on a cell phone is as dangerous as driving drunk. Moreover, she points out the increasing number of accidents caused by cell phone use. Her conclusion is that we need to personally decide not to use a cell phone while driving and that we need to educate our friends and family to give up using cell phones while driving too. I agree with Jones that cell phones are dangerous and that we should personally choose to not use one while driving; however, I’d go further than Jones by adding that we need to have laws that prohibit anyone from using cell phones in cars.
Each of these statements would be the topic sentence of one of the body paragraphs. For the first one, I also give examples of the type of arguments and support I would use to write that paragraph and prove my point.
1. Laws make people realize that cell phone driving is dangerous. (Below is an example of some support I could use to back up this idea—you can use ideas from the article but do not repeat the article.)
- support with an anecdote of friends or family thinking a call is more important than driving
- use statistics from article
- argue some people will be convinced by being educated, but not everyone
- use example of seatbelt laws saving lives
- argue that using a cell phone endangers others and not just yourself
2. New technology requires changes in public policy.
3. People in my generation feel obligated to take a call, but if it is illegal to call while driving, they won’t feel that pressure.
4. Using hands-free headsets won’t work because it is the call that is distracting, not holding the phone.
5. This law will save a lot of lives.
I would return to my personal story and pick it up where I left off. I do crash and there is a lot of damage to my car, but no one is hurt. I can explain my great relief that my cell phone use did not end more tragically, and my personal decision to put my cell phone where I can’t reach it while driving. End with an appeal to the reader to do the same, but to also support legislation to prohibit cell phone use while driving.
Reader Response vs. Evaluation Essays
You formulate an evaluation any time you answer someone’s question, “What did you think of that book (article, movie, class, or news report)? Responding personally to an article is usually the start of any analysis of writing, so it is a good first paper type to write. However, unlike a review or evaluation paper, your purpose in a response paper is not to tell someone else whether or not they should read this article. Instead, your purpose is to explain your reaction and to give reasons (this will be the body of your paper) why you reacted that way. Doing an evaluation paper would take the reading response a step further and is probably one of the papers you will do next in your course.
Questions & Answers
Question: My reading response paper is about a short story that we read in our class. Our assignment is to write a response to the story and express our opinion, Can you explain how to do this?
Answer: I'm glad you've asked whether a reading response paper can be about a piece of literature. You can actually use many of the same techniques in writing about a short story as you do in writing about non-fiction articles. Here is a step-by-step:
1. Begin your paper with a brief description of the story, using the author and full title of the story to start. Here is an example:
In the short story, "I'm Afraid of Bears" by Jon Junko, a young man in college named Ben goes on a camping trip with friends to overcome his fear of being outside which started when he was bit in the head by a bear while sleeping in a tent with his parents when he was eight. Ben's journey on this camping trip parallels his journey through his fears to overcome them and includes...
2. End this paragraph with a thesis sentence which tells your main response and opinion about the story. Here is an example:
Junko's story is engaging, and his character of Ben is believable, authentic and relatable; moreover, I found the story suspenseful and was moved to think about how I needed to confront and overcome my fears.
3. In this "roadmap thesis," you can give yourself (and your reader) an outline of everything you will be talking about in the paper. So turn these ideas into topic sentences. Example:
Junko's story is engaging
The character of Ben is well described and believable.
The story is suspenseful.
While reading, I was moved to think about how I need to confront and overcome my fears.
4. Conclude your paper with why you liked or did not like the story and maybe what you will continue to think about or do after having read the story. If the class discussion also influenced you, you can talk about that as well.
Question: Where should a response-to-literature essay identify the author and title of the literary work being discussed?
Answer: You need to identify the author and title of the literary work as soon as you start talking about them in your essay, which is usually in the introduction. Generally, you will also tell the main point of the literature at the same time, so you might want to put this at the end of the first paragraph or the beginning of the second paragraph. You can put it in the very first sentence if it is a short essay, but generally, you may want to start with a bit more of an interesting introduction. For more help, you might want to look at my "How to write a Visual Essay": https://hubpages.com/humanities/How-to-Write-a-Vis...
Question: What is the word count required of a Reader Response essay?
Answer: There is no particular word count required for this sort of paper. Your instructor will probably have this information for you. However, I usually assign at least a 3-4 page essay to make sure the students do a thorough job.
Gloria on June 09, 2020:
This is very helpful. Thank you.
Maribel Gibbs from Paoli, Pennsylvania on May 13, 2019:
Wow! Amazing guide for the response essay. Incredibly helpful.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 27, 2018:
Hi Dae--what you are describing is a personal experience essay. You can find my instructions on that by Googling that title and my name.
dae on November 27, 2018:
I’m writing a personal response to any story we’ve read in class, and then I have to relate to our real life events or how we relate to this character. Is it the same process as the one demonstrated above?
sai on September 28, 2018:
Excellent post!!!. The strategy you have posted on this technology helped me to get into the next level and had lot of information in it.
sofian on August 22, 2018:
thanks a million
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 21, 2018:
You should start by identifying the book and author and giving one sentence which tells your main reaction. Ideally, that sentence will tell two different ideas so you can do one in the first paragraph and the other in the second paragraph. You can tell what you liked and what you disliked, two things you liked, how you felt about the plot and how you felt about the way it was written, or two other aspects of the story. Here is an example: I really enjoyed Anthony Trollope's novel Can You Forgive Her? because of the interesting female characters and the description of the life of the upper classes in 19th century England.
Then the rest of the first paragraph who talk about why I liked the female characters and what I liked about them. The second paragraph would explain why l liked learning about 19th century England. It would help to conclude with what you learned from the book or how it changed your way of thinking about something.
Note: You should underline or italicize the title of a novel but I can't do that in the question widget.
Annoymus on May 19, 2018:
My task is to write a response to our favourite book in 2 paragraphs could you please help with that
Saif on November 30, 2017:
Hi Ms. Virginia Thank you very much for this wonderful explanations. it is really helpful for my assignment. It is one of my favorite topics that has been explained clearly. I once again appreciate your efforts.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 31, 2017:
Hi Daisy, I'm very glad this is helping you and I hope you will look at my other articles for help on your assignments.
Daisy on October 31, 2017:
hi,Ms.virginia thanks soo much for this ..i didnt know how to start my assignment but after reading from this hub, i know the way forward..i really appreciate you. thank you
Lisa Combs on September 24, 2017:
Coming into my assignment, I was very nervous. I've never written a reader-response paper. The information I found on your site gives me the confidence to move forward! Thanks so much!
Carmel Therese C. Crauz on August 21, 2017:
Hi Ms. Virginia, thanks a lot for a very helpful article. Been searching for a while on how to write a synopsis on our assignment.
THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH! GOD BLESS YOU!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 22, 2015:
Maria, I'm so glad that you found this article helpful to you. Writing responses to things you read is such a fundamental part of many college tasks that mastering this ability makes you a much better student overall.
Maria I Reyes on October 21, 2015:
Ms. Lynne thank you so much. This was extremely helpful. I like the fact that you added examples for a better understanding. I also added it as a favorite so that I can refer to it as often as possible. Thanks again!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on February 08, 2015:
ChocoMoco--all papers need to have a thesis sentence because a thesis sentence is the main idea of the paper. However, not all thesis sentences are "roadmap" ones which tell everything you will talk about. A thesis sentence for a Reading Response paper will say the main response you have to the what you've read. Here is a Reading Response paper with examples about a thesis:https://owlcation.com/humanities/Reading-Response-...
ChocoMoco on February 08, 2015:
For a responsive paper is it necessary to have a thesis sentence?
Selina on November 16, 2014:
Thank you this saved life!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 27, 2014:
Hi Lex--I have several other sample papers that you can see if you just search on HubPages for Reading Response sample essays.
Lex on October 27, 2014:
I really like how you give your example , it sure help me a lot . Please add more to help other people that need it!
Kristi Tipps-Deutsch from Colorado Springs on July 23, 2014:
I enjoyed this hub very much. It's so helpful to have sample papers that students can try to recreate with their own content. I will happily rob you of this fabulous step by step tutorial. Thank you for taking such time and effort to make it so accessible.
Abrar on January 27, 2014:
Thank you it was so helpful I had two videos and the Dr. asked us to write responds I did what have said thank you
Eric on January 01, 2014:
Thank you for your response examples.
honey on October 14, 2013:
i was awesome i got lots of idea . thanks. : )
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on August 21, 2012:
Glad that my Hub reassured you reniesaenz. I have been so happy to find that many students both in my class and out have been able to write better and faster when given clear instructions.
reniesaenz on August 20, 2012:
To be honest I was a little nervous going into your class. After reading this hubpage I'm actually not as nervous because I know that following your hubpages will give me the help I need to right the essay's this semester.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on June 12, 2012:
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Thanks! it is really helpful on June 12, 2012:
Thanks! It is really helpful.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on April 20, 2012:
Thanks so much peytons for letting me know that this has helped you. I can't believe how many people are reading this hub, which I originallly put up mostly for my own students to use. Finally, I Googled this topic and realized that there isn't much on the web explaining how to write reading responses, even though that is a very common essay topic in a lot of disciplines. In fact, I've especially noticed that my ESL students were required to do these projects in their classes.
peytons on April 20, 2012:
Thanks for your hub, and I have learned a lot about the skills of writing a reading reponse.
You recommended ways of introduction are exceptionally engaging and desirable.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on February 21, 2012:
Hi--the two samples in the blue block are reading response essays my students have done. Good luck on your assignment! Check out some of my other hubs for other writing help.
Claudia Tello from Mexico on November 19, 2011:
Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. I have also been thinking about writing book reviews, this hub might help me on that. Cheers!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 18, 2011:
Thanks for your comments Claudia. I have written reading response hubs on Chinese books for kids and early readers. My "Stone Age" hub is really a reading response too. Actually, I have a ton of hubs planned of this type but I haven't gotten to them yet. Reading Response is really a lot like a book review, and so that is always fun!
Claudia Tello from Mexico on November 18, 2011:
I used to write reading response essays for a literature course I engaged in during my college years. I enjoy writing and analyzing my response to the things I read. It was quite fun in those days because the professor obviously chose books that where especially thought provoking and that made it much more interesting and easy too. Do you write many reading response hub-essays?
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 03, 2011:
Thanks Carol3san--I've been very surprised at the number of people who have looked at my writing hubs and I'm always grateful for positive feedback. Thanks for stopping by!
Carolyn Sands from Hollywood Florida on November 03, 2011:
Thanks for the hub. Great info. I voted you up.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 30, 2011:
Thanks somethingblue! I appreciate your comment and the time you've taken to respond at length. Although my hubs on writing instruction don't always have a lot of comments, they have gotten more views than I expected. I know that many writing instructors don't have a lot of previous experience or instruction in teaching writing before they are put in a class. Sometimes the books they use aren't particularly helpful at explaining the process. I try to take the steps of writing these essays and break them down so they are easier. Thanks again!