How to Write a Reading Response Essay with Sample Papers
Reading Response Essays
Summarizes what you read.
Gives 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.
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 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.
Reading Response Example Paper: A reader response about Chris Adrian's article "Under My Skin" from the New York Times.
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
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.
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.
Body of Paper: Support Response
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 which 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.
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:
Differentiating Your Voice from the Author's: Instead of "Jones says," you can use:
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
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 which 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.
Additional Information for Essay on Cell Phone Use While Driving
Reading Response vs. Evaluation
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.
How long does your instructor give you to write each essay?
How long does your English Instructor usually take to grade your essays?
Questions & Answers
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?
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.
What is the word count required of a Reader Response essay?
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.