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How to Write a Response Paper on a Book, Article or Movie

Students are often asked to write an academic response paper on a piece of work they studied at lectures in college or were given as self-instructional material for homework. This type of assignment can refer to a book, article, film, piece of music or artwork - this depends on the subject you are learning, but theoretically, it can cover any piece of work in any area of study. That's why all students need to clearly understand what they are supposed to write and how this type of academic papers differs from others.

Now, what is a response paper? It is a kind of statement made by an individual about a given piece of work, featuring an emotional-evaluative nature while containing argumentation for individual's opinion, supported by evidence. Sure, this is not a generally accepted response paper definition, since in different colleges the same idea can be formulated in different ways. And obviously, there are colleges providing no definition of response paper for their students at all. But the main purpose is that the paper needs to explain your personal attitude to the work you read/watch/listen to, and this attitude has to be based on some convincing argumentation.

So, what does this mean and does it help in understanding how to write a response paper in college? For one thing, students should realize that the most of their response paper has to focus on their individual opinion - not on retelling the content, author's biography, history of creation and other facts about the work discussed. Sure, there should be a brief overview covering some of these, but this is not the core of the paper.

For another thing, students cannot just write something like "I didn't like it because I don't like classical music at all" or "I strongly agree with the author of the film because he's right about everything." That is not the level of argumentation tutors expect from college students. You need to analyze the piece of work, then to find its weak and strong points and to explain why you believe these points are weak or strong.

So, the most challenging thing about writing response papers is to find a balance between your emotions and logic. You will feel better when focusing on this part of the phrase "why YOU believe" - this means that as opposed to a research paper you don't need to search for and rely on authoritative sources. To provide arguments, you can compare your subject matter with other works reflecting the same topic, use cases from your personal experience or tack ideas generated during lessons of the course you are writing for. Moreover, except as noted by your tutor, you are free to choose any part of the work for expressing your view - you can focus on a particular element, for example, on author's language, or evaluate the work in the whole. It allows much more freedom for students in comparison with other academic papers.

When you are sure you do understand what your task is, it is time to move to practice.

How to Write a Good Response Paper Step By Step

  • Before writing a response paper, you have to familiarize yourself with the piece of work assigned - watch the film, listen to the music or read the article. Even if you need to read all 11 books of Edgar Burroughs's Barsoom series or to spend 5 hours listening to Richard Wagner's The Master-Singers of Nuremberg, take your time to do this instead of just looking through critical reviews. While working on the subject, make notes, writing down your thoughts, quotes or questions - this will facilitate the process of writing.
  • Define the main idea of the work. Ask yourself why the author created this piece. What is the problem set up in the piece? Is there any statement made by the author and what are the supporting arguments? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments? Do you have any facts to support or confute author's statement? Write down your thoughts to use them later in a response paper introduction.
  • Decide on the topic/topics you will focus on. To that end, review your notes to figure out which aspects of the work made the strongest impression on you. Think of how this topic correlates with your experience and ideas or to challenges of today's world. Consider any influence the work has on you - did it change your point of view in any way? Develop a thesis on the chosen focus and find evidence to support it. Don't forget to write out quotes, if possible, to illustrate the author's statements you want to reflect on.
  • Make an outline based on the following sample response paper format.

Response Paper Format

Generally, response papers format includes:

  • Introduction
    Here you need to briefly present the work and its author, the main idea, and problems that were set up. If you are assigned to write 4-5 pages, make your introduction 2-3 paragraphs long. Within shorter size limits, give it 1 paragraph.
  • Body
    Give 1-2 paragraphs for each thesis you want to reflect on. Start each paragraph with a strong and clear statement describing your reaction followed by evidence supporting your point of view. Don't forget to refer to the original work.
  • Conclusion

Write a brief paragraph restating your thesis and explaining the significance of this work for you and the society.

Also, be sure to check whether you need to write an APA response paper (mainly used in the social sciences) or to follow a MLA response paper format (adopted in the humanities).

Tips on a Response Paper Outline

You may experience some difficulties with starting your outline for a response paper since the first step is always the hardest. Here is the example, which will help you understand how to write a response paper outline.

  • Introduction

"Robinson Crusoe" is a famous novel by the Englishman Daniel Defoe. It was published in 1719, and it addresses the moral revival of a man in interactions with nature. The book is based on real events...

  • Body

I think that the novel is a vivid example of an optimistic work that gives strength and radiates enthusiasm...

The main character has to resolve many moral issues, and therefore I find it beneficial that nowadays the novel is read primarily by teenagers...

I like that by the end of the novel, the main character evolves into a man considering creative abilities to be the main thing in his life...

  • Conclusion

Though a little bit old-style, the novel is still compelling, since it addresses the issue of personal enhancement...

It was just a response paper outline template; you can make up your own outline in the way you prefer and add some originality and uniqueness to it.

Now, when you know how to write a good response paper, there are no doubts that you will succeed in dealing with this task!

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