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A response essay is a short essay that expresses your reaction to something. It could be anything from a book to an article and even a sculpture. It is meant to test your analytic skills and your ability to explain your analysis. When it comes to art, everyone has their own interpretation, therefore you should not worry about being right. You should worry about the depth of your response essay and proving the validity of your argument. Note that, a response essay is not a review of the work. Your purpose is not to help the reader see the value in the work of art. Your purpose is to analyze it.
An analysis is about the examination of the theme among other artistic tools. For example, if you are writing a response essay for a book. You do not comment on the characters themselves and whether you like them or not. You comment on the author’s characterization. Your comment on the strength of character development. You analyze how the characterization has contributed to the theme and overall story. You talk about the depth of the characters. Other tools to analyze in literature are the setting, descriptions, tone, imagery, and symbolism. The idea is to discuss whether these tools achieved their intended purpose.
Writing a response essay can be strenuous. It takes a lot of time to analyze a small piece of literature or art. It requires so much thought. You have to understand the artistic tools before you write a response essay. This is to say that a lot of depth is required. This can be difficult for you to achieve. It is tempting to simply use analyses like ‘I found the book very interesting’ without providing sufficient evidence for it.
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This is usually placed in the first paragraph. However, before you present your argument it is necessary to have some background first. Provide information about the author. You could talk about their works or the themes they are most popular for. The point here is to introduce your author.
Then you should give a summary of the article or book or whatever you are responding to. If it is a sculpture then this is where you describe its physical traits. Describe the color, curves, and size among other traits. You want the reader to understand what you are responding to first before they delve into your arguments. You want them to build their own ideas rather than piggyback on yours. After the introduction then you present your thesis statement.
The thesis statement should be catchy enough to capture the attention of the reader. It should spur that desire to know more. It should capture the focal point of your response essay. It could be a comparison to a popular position or a comparison to another piece with a similar application of tools. The best way to determine if you have stated an argument is by determining whether it could be argued on the contrary with supporting evidence from the same piece.
This part determines the strength of the response essay. It will determine whether your response essay holds any water. Every paragraph in the body should start with a topic sentence. The topic sentence introduces the position or reaction. Follow this up with evidence from the work you are responding to. Then conclude with something that ties together the paragraph and also transitions to the next paragraph. The paragraphs in the body are also called evidence paragraphs.
It is not enough to merely state your evidence. You must relate your evidence to the argument. How does the evidence contribute to your argument? How does the evidence support your reaction? What role does the evidence play in the text and your argument? What do you suppose the author was trying to achieve with that bit? Does the evidence achieve what it is meant to?
Unless asked to only use the text you are responding to for reference. You may borrow from other texts. You may compare and contrast with other artists. You may also use quotes. Some plagiarism resources may flag your response essay if there is excessive use of quotes. Therefore do not rely too much on the quotes. Try instead to paraphrase.
Chances are that the reader will forget most of your response essay. This is the only part they will most likely remember. Make sure it is worth remembering. The conclusion is meant to tie together the argument and pieces of evidence in the body paragraphs. This is not your opportunity to introduce ideas you may have forgotten to highlight. This is not your chance to give a new perspective of the text.
The conclusion should be an overview of the body paragraphs. It should not be so long that it could be a response essay on its own. You should keep it short and concise. It should be clear and authoritative. This is your ‘mic drop’. Make it memorable. Make it a good one.
Unity, coherence, and clarity
These three are the basic requirements of a response essay. Unity is about relating the reactions and the respective evidence to each other. It is about writing paragraphs that work together in cohesion. It is about transitioning properly from one paragraph to another. Coherence is about the validity of the reactions. Does it make sense? Is it appropriate? Is the argument logical? Is your response essay reasonable overall?
Then there is the question of clarity. Your response essay should be clear in idea suggestion and argument presentation. You should not be ambiguous. Your response essay should not be presented with gaps in the rationale. It should present a clear picture of your reactions to the work. The reader should be able to understand your train of thought. When someone reads your response essay, will they say- I think what is being suggested is…- or will they say- the writer suggests…? If it is the former then you have done a poor job, if it is the latter then kudos.
In an academic setting, your reactions may be personal but they cannot be unsupported. Evidence is meant to help the reader understand your reaction. It is meant to help the author or creator see why you would react to their work in that way. Your reaction reveals a beholder’s motivations and interpretations. It reveals their relationship and interaction with the material. You are not trying to get the reader to share your opinion or to have the same reaction. You want anyone who might have a contrary opinion to accept the validity of your perspective despite a contrast. Not necessarily to change sides but to accept that there is space for a different side.
Nothing will distract the reader more than a response essay that is chock full of errors. Those little errors undermine you. You might write the most interesting and thought-provoking response essay but the reader will not get very far into it with typos and grammatical mistakes. You should therefore take time to proofread and edit your paper before submitting it. You should read it out loud then again from the back toward the front. If you have doubts that your paper may not be clear of all errors, you may ask a friend to do it for you. Better yet, contact a writing service like assignmentessays.com for proofreading and editing services.
Citation and Referencing
Depending on what is required, you may or may not use external sources. Whatever the source you use, you must cite it properly inside the response essay text. You must also provide a more detailed reference of the material at the end of the essay. You must also appropriately apply the referencing style rules. In some cases, the instructor may not specify which referencing style to use. In this case, you may ask or use APA as the default. The format of the paper will also be informed by the prescribed referencing style. Little things like where to place the title or what should be in the header are significant. The devil is in the details.
Your response essay should spur thought in the reader. You should inspire the reader to think about their own reactions and opinions of the text. Do they agree with you? Do they disagree with you? Do they have evidence to dispute your argument? If they had to write a response essay themselves, how would it read? Do they think your argument is valid? Do they think there is stronger evidence for your reaction? Does the response essay have enough depth? In their opinion, how were the literary tools applied?
Focus on your first impression
As you read the material, do not think about the response essay. Think about your reaction. For a minute, forget about the task ahead. Focus solely on how you are interacting with the material. This will help you when the time to write the response essay comes. You will be able to defend your position more passionately. You will be able to fetch your argument and reaction from a deeper place. The readers will be able to see the authenticity and realness of your reactions. This is what will give your response essay heart. It will be easier to find strong evidence for your reactions if you pay special attention to your perceptions in real-time.
Create an outline
It is always advisable to plan your work. An organized workspace is a productive workspace. Therefore, organize your canvas according to the main elements then break that down into sub-elements. This will guide you so that you do not forget any relevant and necessary bits of your response essay. The outline will also help you maintain the flow. You will find that once you have created a skeleton and have a frame to work with, the work will not seem as daunting. Just take it one element at a time and you will be done before you know it. Creating an outline before you start writing the response essay will help you conquer procrastination.
Set aside enough time
Writing a response essay will take a lot of time. You must read and really take in the material first. You must also learn and grasp the underlying tools. These two steps are akin to research in regular academic writing. You should take your time in this first stage. Really pay attention to your interaction with the text. What do you feel is the intention? Has the intention been achieved conclusively? What would you do differently? What other literary works does the text remind you of?
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