Sample Reading Response Paper
What is a Reading Response?
Summary: what are the main points?
Analysis: how effectively is it written?
Response: did it convince you?
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?
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.
Who is Michael Crichton?
The author of many bestselling novels, including Jurassic Park, Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical school but became a novelist instead of practicing medicine.
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 of the many of the global scares he has witnessed, which include many predictions which are mutually exclusive 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, by the decline in the workforce and aging population. Worries about robots creating too much leisure time have evolved into worries about smart phones 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.
Novel Scares by Michael Crichton
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 at times he 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 over-react. 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.
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 which 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.
Reading Response Poll on Fear
Do you agree that "Let's Stop being so Scared?"
Tips for Writing Your Reading Response Paper
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.
Michael Crichton "State of Fear"
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.