Response papers

A response paper is a short essay which conveys the writer's reaction to one or several texts that he or she has read. This kind of assignment is usually given to students after they have read a number of articles, or a work of fiction.

A response paper is often structured in the following way:

  1. In the introduction, the book(s)/article(s), etc. that has been read is introduced and the focus of the response paper is stated
  2. In the Body, one or several specific issues are brought up for examination
  3. In the Conclusion, the argument (the 'response' to the texts that have been read) is summed up and some conclusion is offered

Depending on the teacher's instructions, response papers may or may not require the use of external sources.

Note that response papers are not reviews; the writer is not supposed to offer a value statement on the text that is being discussed. Instead, the response paper (which is sometimes called 'reaction paper') is a kind of critical close reading of a specific aspect of one or several texts.

Advice: How to write a response paper (click to expand/contract)

Here are sample instructions for a response paper:

Step 1: Pre-writing activities (i.e. what to do before you start writing)

As you read the text on which you are to base your response paper, mark sections that strike you as important and make notes. One way of doing that is to keep a reading journal where you write down your reactions and ideas as you read. These notes will be helpful in deciding what to focus on in your response paper.

Step 2: Decide on a topic

When deciding what to write about in your response paper, look at your notes, your underlinings, etc. To find a focus, try to establish what interested you in the text(s). One way of defining a suitable topic is to ask questions about the text(s) you have read:

  • What was significant?
  • What do I remember?
  • What did I react to (like/dislike)?
  • Was there something I did not understand?
Step 3: Starting to write: Open with an introductory paragraph

When you have decided what to focus on, write an introductory passage where you introduce the text(s). Here, you tell the reader which text(s) by which author(s) you will be discussing in your response paper. In this paragraph you should also clearly state what you will focus on in your response paper.

Make sure that the title of your response paper is informative.

Step 4: Writing the body of the response paper

After the introductory paragraph comes the body of the text, which is the part of the essay where you will discuss the topic you have chosen. Divide your essay into paragraphs. Remember to start a new paragraph when you begin to discuss something new. Since the response paper is such a short paper, there is usually no need for headings in the text.

Step 5: Writing the conclusion

End your response paper with a concluding paragraph, where you sum up what you have said and draw some conclusion. Like the introduction, the conclusion should be brief – a few sentences will usually do.

Step 6: Formalities

Although a response paper might be more personal than other kinds of academic essays, it must nonetheless follow the general rules of essay writing. See, for instance, the advice provided in the AWELU section on the