Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
What Is a Reading Response Essay?
Reading response essays are like writing down what should be happening in your head as you read something. They help you understand the essay so that you can use it in your paper. Here are the main questions you need to answer:
- What is the main idea?
- What is the best evidence to prove that main idea?
- What does the author want me to think, do, or believe after reading?
- What is effective or ineffective about how this is written?
- Who is the audience the author wants to persuade?
- Does the tone, style, organization, word choice and content work for that audience?
- What is the rhetorical situation (the history of this argument ideas and the current events happening when the article was written)
- What do you think about this essay?
- Does it convince you?
Basics of the Essay
Summary: what are the main points?
Analysis: how effectively is it written?
Response: did it convince you?
Sample Reading Response Paper
The following "Sample Response Essay" was written as part of an in-class exercise I did with my freshmen college students. Each student wrote a response, and we compiled the best comments into one essay. I then took the essays from both classes and wrote up the following example. The essay responds to "Let's Stop Scaring Ourselves" by Michael Crichton. The article was originally published in Parade Magazine on December 5, 2004.
Reading Response Summary
In his essay, "Let's Stop Scaring Ourselves," Michael Crichton addresses the problem that during his lifetime, Americans have become burdened and consumed by highly publicized fears which turned out to be false alarms. Crichton details many of the global scares he has witnessed, including many mutually exclusive predictions such as the scare for global cooling followed by the scare about global warming. He notes that at one time, we were worried about overpopulation and mass starvation and, at another, about the decline in the workforce and aging population. Worries about robots creating too much leisure time have evolved into worries about smartphones creating overworked and stressed Americans. In addition, Crichton details many "non-events" such as swine flu, Y2K, and brain cancer from cell phone use. In conclusion, Crichton suggests that readers follow his example to take the next doomsday prediction with a grain of salt.
As a popular author of modern scare stories like Jurassic Park and Andromeda Strain, Crichton's perspective that we have let our fears get out of control is ironic and effective. Initially introducing himself as a 62-year-old man, Crichton gives the sense that he is trying to give advice to the younger generation. Crichton also effectively uses his life story by opening the essay from his perspective as a younger man constantly plagued by worry over the latest, highly publicized fears.
Although he sometimes sounds like a ranting, senile old man, Crichton's smooth and sensible writing appeals to reason and simplicity and makes the reader want to agree. His abundant and various examples assist in emphasizing his point that Americans do have a tendency to overreact. The examples also distract the reader from focusing on his thesis, which can make his article seem more like a rant.
The author brings the reader along with him as he moves through the laundry list of 20th-century fears, poking fun at the exaggerated extremes of these claims through sarcasm as he describes the ever-switching pendulum of panic and public opinion. While assuming an audience who is roughly his age and has experienced these same scares, he gives enough details to convince even a younger audience to take his advice to keep things in perspective.
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Response to Fear
Do I agree with Michael Crichton? In many ways, I think he has hit the bulls-eye on an important problem of how the public panics unnecessarily. Although I'm less than a third of the author's age, I've experienced plenty of angst I probably could have avoided. I remember Y2K, even though I was only 6 years old. In fact, our family even participated, to a certain extent, when we were the recipients of some of the supplies our neighbors had stockpiled (what my mother did with the 50-pound container of beans, I never did find out!). More recently, I remember the "Mayan Apocalypse" and scares about the Bird Flu.
Does that mean my generation is off the hook? Do we need to think about how to solve world problems? No. That is where I think that Michael Crichton's argument may fall short. While I do believe that concerns about overpopulation, climate change and running out of natural resources can be overwrought and ineffective, I do know we live in a world that has limitations and that while Crichton's generation has staved off the final reckoning, my generation may find that more difficult. What can we do? I think Crichton is right in saying we need to avoid irrational panic over the latest scare, but I also think we need to keep our eyes out and our minds and hands busy keeping potential Armageddons of the future at bay.
1. Look for Other Responses
Still stumped at what to write? Look for responses from other people to the same article. Here are a variety of responses to the essay.
2. Look for Other Articles by Same Author
Another way to help formulate your response is to look for other things the author has written on the same subject.
For example, shortly before his death, Michael Crichton spoke at The Independent Institute about the "State of Fear" in the U.S. In his talk, he gives a detailed explanation of how he came to formulate the ideas for "Let's Stop Scaring Ourselves." He explains how it was research he was doing into natural disasters like Chernobyl which caused him to realize that the scope of some of the fearful things of our century was not as big as he had realized. This excellent and humorous speech gives many more details about why Crichton suggests we should worry less than we do.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on March 02, 2018:
Hi Barbara, I turned 40 in the year 2000, and I started teaching College English in 1993 (so I've actually been teaching 25 years, but who's counting?). The above response example was part of an in-class exercise written by my students. Those students were 6 at Y2K! My oldest daughter was 5 at the time.
Barbara Lex on March 02, 2018:
Were you really six years old during Y2K? How is that possible if you have taught at the college level for 20 years? I hope that is a misprint.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 20, 2013:
Your article introduces a very interesting exercise for comprehension and expression. Thanks for the illustrations. Voted Up and Useful.
Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 19, 2013:
Your very welcome, Virginia. You do good work teaching students to do this. My wife teachers a similar, but more advanced course on how to write a research paper, and I guest lecture to help them know that writing can be fun, not just an assignment. Keep teaching!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 19, 2013:
SidKemp--Thanks for such a thoughtful answer. You are absolutely right about the importance of learning how to do Reader Response. I have actually been very surprised to find that my college freshman students have a very difficult time doing this assignment. That is partly why I've developed so many hubs to help them and they are some of my most popular ones.
Secondly, I think you are absolutely right about Crichton's ironic switch from someone who exploited fears and then tells us not to worry. However, as I've now reached my 50s, I do understand how you begin to see things from a different perspective as we develop experience over time.
Thirdly! Thank you so much for reminding everyone that Y2K was not a "non-issue" but rather one that was solved by many people working hard and smart over a number of years. The Research Paper assignments that I give my students are all about how to solve world problems. I really believe that this generation of students needs to know that they can make a difference. Thanks again! VirginiaLynne
Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 19, 2013:
Thanks for an interesting exploration of an excellent topic. I have three thoughts: I would like to see a world where everyone could write a Reading Response Essay by age 10 (5th grade). I think if we were all trained in understanding what we hear and read and deciding for ourselves, the world would be a better place. In particular, we would be less afraid.
Second: I think that Michael Crichton came to his realization a bit too late - after a lifetime creating and profiting from the problem he then encouraged us to stop creating! He helped create, then fed, America's addiction to fear of the destruction of the world. In fact, it was the original release of his first novel, Andromeda Strain, that got me worried! Still, better late than never, and I'm glad for his encouragement to end the fear.
Third, while fear, itself, is not valuable, genuine concern is important. Of the various crises you mentioned, I know one from my own experience could have been real, and was averted. I spent 3 years of my life helping to prevent the Y2K computer bug from causing harm. My own work helped prevent nuclear shut-downs, a collapse of the global financial markets, and problems with food distribution. I worked with companies that would have failed - leaving many unemployed - during that time. Overall, Y2K didn't happen, but it was due to hard work. It was the largest peacetime effort to prevent disaster at least since the Marshall Plan after WW II, which was also a success.
So, I say, let's get educated, stop being afraid, and make a good and realistic difference for a better future. (On the other hand, maybe I'm just getting old!)