Warning about the following tutorial

You will notice that the author gives a list of seven items (identified by lower-case letters) which you should think about.

This is NOT an outline for your paper! You should not plan on merely answering these seven questions as if this were a tax form!

These seven items are designed to stimulate your thinking so you can produce a finished essay. They are not a questionnaire. You have not finished writing when you have answered all the questions.


As a scholar, you have the right and duty to stand in judgment on the text.

How to Write a Reaction Paper or Reader Response

A reader response asks the reader [you] to examine, explain and defend her/his personal reaction to a reading. You will be asked to explore why you like or dislike the reading, explain whether you agree or disagree with the author, identify the reading's purpose, and critique the text. There is no right or wrong answer to a reader response. Nonetheless, it is important that you demonstrate an understanding of the reading and clearly explain and support your reactions.

DO NOT use the standard high school-level approach of just writing: "I liked this book (or article or document or movie) because it is so cool and the ending made me feel happy," or "I hated it because it was stupid, and had nothing at all to do with my life, and was too negative and boring."

In writing a response you may assume the reader has already read the text. Thus, do NOT summarize the contents of the text at length. Instead, take a systematic, analytical approach to the text.

First of all, be sure to mention the title of the work to which you are responding, the author, and the main thesis of the text, using correct English for the first sentence of your paper!

Then, try to answer ALL of the questions below.

  1. What does the text have to do with you, personally, and with your life (past, present or future)? It is not acceptable to write that the text has NOTHING to do with you, since just about everything humans can write has to do in some way with every other human.
  2. How much does the text agree or clash with your view of the world, and what you consider right and wrong? Use several quotes as examples of how it agrees with and supports what you think about the world, about right and wrong, and about what you think it is to be human. Use quotes and examples to discuss how the text disagrees with what you think about the world and about right and wrong.
  3. How much did you learn, and how much were your views and opinions challenged or changed by this text, if at all? Did the text communicate with you? Why or why not? Give examples of how your views might have changed or been strengthened (or perhaps, of why the text failed to convince you, the way it is). Please do not write "I agree with everything the author wrote," since everybody disagrees about something, even if it is a tiny point. Use quotes to illustrate your points of challenge, or where you were persuaded, or where it left you cold.
  4. How well does it address things that you, personally, care about and consider important to the world? How does it address things that are important to your family, your community, your ethnic group, to people of your economic or social class or background, or your faith tradition? If not, who does or did the text serve? Did it pass the "Who cares?" test? Use quotes to illustrate.
  5. Reading and writing "critically" does not mean the same thing as "criticizing," in everyday language (complaining or griping, fault-finding, nit-picking). Your "critique" can and should be positive and praise the text if possible, as well as pointing out problems, disagreements and shortcomings.
  6. How well did you enjoy the text (or not) as entertainment or as a work of art? Use quotes or examples to illustrate the quality of the text as art or entertainment. Of course, be aware that some texts are not meant to be entertainment or art—a news report or textbook, for instance, may be neither entertaining or artistic, but may still be important and successful.
  7. To sum up, what is your overall reaction to the text? Would you read something else like this, or by this author, in the future or not? Why or why not? To whom would you recommend this text?

Now it's time to write

Allen's Comment: All of the material above counts as prewriting/gathering. You were searching for something to say and the material to back it up. Now you need to make a point (thesis) about the piece you are responding to. A response that merely gives seven bullet-point body paragraphs isn't making a point and probably has no unity—and will probably get a grade in the C− to D range.


Writing Advice

Your first draft is just that, and you should expect to re-write your work several times before you consider it completed. This means you should start your writing project in advance of the due date, in order to allow yourself enough time to revise your work. Ask someone else to read your draft(s) and write their comments and suggestions on how you might improve the work directly on your drafts.

The goal is to present a coherent essay with a clear argument. ...[Y]ou should state your general argument (your thesis) in an introductory paragraph and then use the rest of the essay to support your position, making sure that you deal carefully with each of the issues the questions raise somewhere in the paper.

  1. You don't need to use footnotes. When quoting or citing from the documents or your textbook, simply put author and page numbers in parenthesis. Ex. (Gorn, 52) or (Jones, 167). There is absolutely no need to refer to other, outside sources for this assignment. This is a critical essay, not a research paper.
  2. Be very careful to avoid plagiarism. Do not use words or ideas from the internet, from any publication, or from the work of another student without citing the source. Also, if you use more than three words in a row from any source, including the document you're writing about, those words must be enclosed in quotation marks.
  3. Your essay should be based primarily on evidence drawn from a close, careful reading of the documents. You can also use appropriate background information from the textbook and lectures, but you should use most of your space to discuss the documents.
  4. Writing style counts. You need to edit your paper multiple times to be a successful writer.

When writing a reader response, write as an educated adult, addressing other adults or fellow scholars. As a beginning scholar, if you write that something has nothing to do with you or does not pass your "Who cares?" test, but many other people think that it is important and great, readers will probably not agree with you that the text is dull or boring, but they may conclude instead that you are dull and boring, that you are too immature or uneducated to understand what important things the author wrote.

If you did not like a text, that is fine, but criticize it either from principle (it is racist, or it unreasonably puts down religion or women or working people or young people or gays or Texans or plumbers, it includes factual errors or outright lies, it is too dark and despairing, or it is falsely positive) or from form (it is poorly written, it contains too much verbal "fat," it is too emotional or too childish, has too many facts and figures or has many typo's in the text, or wanders around without making a point). In each of these cases, do not simply criticize, but give examples. But, always beware, as a beginning scholar, of criticizing any text as "confusing" or "crazy," since readers might simply conclude that you are too ignorant or slow to understand and appreciate it!


Williamson, Owen M. "How to Write a Reader Response." English 0310 Reading and Communication Skills, U of Texas at El Paso, July 2006, utminers.utep.edu/omwilliamson/engl0310link/readerresponse.htm. Accessed 2 July 2019.