Don't Fear the Informal
While injecting your own thoughts and opinions into a writing assignment often is dangerous territory, using first-person point of view and describing personal reactions are key components of journal responses. Don't be afraid to discuss your emotional responses to the reading, personal experiences that mirror its ideas or ways you can apply its message to your own life and education. If you're responding to a short story, for example, you might compare and contrast yourself with the main character and show how your personal experiences helped you understand him better. The more honest you are in your reflection, the most useful the assignment will be.
Be Observant, Not Opinionated
While journal responses are more informal than most writing assignments, they don't give you license to spout your views without backing them up. Your journal response should reveal your thought process of engaging with the text more than just showcase your personal emotions and thoughts. Avoid stating how much you "liked" or "hated" the reading; instead, delve deeper by determining what specific aspects were powerful or unsettling. To take your reflections to a higher level, try examining how your opinions changed as you analyzed specific passages or researched the topic on your own.
Critique the Craft
Whether you're reading fiction or nonfiction, putting the author's writing style under a microscope can help you examine how the main theme or argument develops throughout the piece. Tone, description and persuasive techniques are all worth studying as you delve into the text. If you're reading a short story, for example, you might choose to analyze the story's setting and how the author uses imagery to bring it to life, while a journal response on an editorial might explore the author's strategies for getting readers to consider his position on an issue.
While some reading assignments may present clear topics for journal responses, it may be harder to crack the surface of others. If an aspect of the reading confuses you, try using your journal response as a tool for answering your questions. You might pose your question in the introduction, then search the text for direct quotes that demonstrate how you think the author responds, creating a conversation between you and the text over the issue. As a result, your response can become not just a reading reflection, but documentation of your attempts to resolve your uncertainty.