How to Write a Personal Response in College

A personal response is an essay in which you describe and analyze your own thoughts and feelings about a reading. The personal response is usually one of the first assignments in a beginning writing course. It teaches you to think about what you are reading and then ask yourself why you feel that way.

Read and Annotate

Read through the assigned material. Think about how it makes you feel as you read it, and take ten minutes after you finish reading to think about what you just read.

Read through the material again. This time, make comments in the margins. Write down questions, impressions and feelings that you have. Make note of ideas you agree or disagree with, as well as statements that seem to contradict each other or that do not make sense. Underline words, phrases and paragraphs that interest you and comment on why you find them interesting. Note ideas and words that come up repeatedly.

Go back through the material a third time and make more comments. Try to expand on your previous comments and answer your previous questions. By this point, you should have a strong understanding of the material and your ideas about it. If not, continue reading and annotating until you do.

Writing Process

To begin the writing process, try freewriting. Look over your annotated copy of the assigned reading and your comments. Sit for 15 or 20 minutes and write down any thoughts that come to mind without worrying about grammar or structure. Think of how you feel and try to explain why. When the time is up, go through what you have written and look for good ideas and strong arguments. Choose a few of these to start your essay.

Draft an outline of your response by deciding which ideas are your main ideas and grouping ideas that support those main ideas under them. This is a good chance to look for problems before you spend the time writing. Do the ideas make sense? Can you support or illustrate them with quotations from the reading? Is any information missing? Consider, too, how you'll organize your ideas so that each one flows logically from the previous idea.

Working from your outline, start filling in your essay. Write down a topic sentence for each paragraph that deals with one main idea, then use the rest of the paragraph to expand on that idea and use examples from the assigned reading to support it.

Edit your work. Pay close attention to your instructor's guidelines, and make sure your essay follows the required format and style. Check that you have an introduction with a thesis statement, body paragraphs with well-supported topic sentences and a conclusion. Look also for clear transitions between each paragraph and idea. If you are both agreeing and disagreeing with the author, that's fine, but be clear about it in your essay. Make sure all your ideas are explained and supported.

  • Always pay careful attention to the assignment guidelines given by your instructor.
  • Be careful not to fall to much into describing your own personal experiences. While this can be a valuable addition to your essay, keep it short and remain focused on the material itself.
About the Author

Erika Wright is a writer from California with a Master's degree in postcolonial literature. She has lived in five different countries. She enjoys the challenge of combining her love of travel and academia with the lessons and adventures of daily life in her writing.

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