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Rules for Writing a Reading Response Essay


A reading response essay is a common English essay assignment. It allows for you to react to your reading while demonstrating the ability to form an argument and support it with evidence from the text. A response essay can be assigned for both fiction and nonfiction reading.

Focusing on Literary Elements

All reading response essays are an opportunity to develop an argument about a central theme in a text. Choosing an approach to your argument is the first step. To do this, focus on the literary elements of the work, including characterization, setting, description, tone, imagery and symbolism. When you are reading, pay attention to the writer's focus. If there is a particularly strong character who represents a theme, you might choose characterization and description as literary elements to support your argument. An analysis of a historical work might rely heavily on setting. Familiarize yourself with the writer's tools and keep them in mind as you read.

Developing a Thesis

Developing a thesis, or argument, is crucial for a successful reading response essay. Thesis development ideas could include examination of the author's use of literary elements in developing a theme, comparison of the author's theme to a popular perspective, or comparison of the author's theme to another work of literature. Keep in mind, however, that with all types of comparison, the focus of your analysis should be on the writer's technique, rather than a summary of the writing. When you write your thesis, make sure that it contains a point with an argument. An easy way to test whether you have included an argument is to ask yourself whether someone could dispute your claim with his own evidence.

Organization and Structure

The reading response essay lends itself well to a five-paragraph structure. Your first paragraph should provide background information on the author, a short description of the work of writing, and your thesis statement. Each of the three body paragraphs should focus on one particular aspect of the story, such as the author's technique, a character or the setting, to help support your assertion. The conclusion paragraph should summarize the points you bring up in your body paragraphs and tie them to your original thesis argument.

Evidence and Body Paragraphs

One of the most important parts of your reading response essay is the evidence you use to support your argument. Evidence should be paraphrased from the original text with proper citation. Short passages may be quoted in a response essay along with citations. Each body paragraph should contain a topic sentence that clearly indicates how the evidence in that paragraph will support your argument. Use one or two pieces of evidence per paragraph. Write an analysis of one to two sentences for each piece of evidence. End with a concluding sentence that transitions into your next paragraph.

Writing Analysis

Your analysis of your evidence is the most important part of your response essay. It is important that you do not simply restate your evidence or your thesis when constructing analysis. Instead, you should look to explain how the author's technique or use of a character, for example, adds to the theme conveyed. You may also draw outside comparisons or expand upon the evidence. In analysis, you might also write about whether or not you believe the author has achieved his goal.

Writing Your Conclusion

Now that you have constructed a thesis, found evidence and developed analysis for all of your examples, it is important to conclude your response with a summation of your point. Your conclusion should include a basic overview of the points that you have made in your body paragraphs. Avoid bringing up any new ideas in your conclusion or adding any analysis not previously mentioned in your response.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

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