How to Write a Reaction Paper or Reader Response.
(A Quick Introduction to Reading and Writing Critically)
Analyze the text as an individual reader. This process is as much about YOU as it is about the text you are responding to. As a scholar you stand in judgment over the text.
[from the ENGL 0310 Syllabus] "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.
a.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.
b. 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.
c How 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.
d. 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.
e. Critique the text. 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.
f. 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.
g. 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?
An important tip from the UTEP History Tutoring Center:Your first draft is just that, and you should expect to re-write your workseveral 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.
Tips from UTEP History Prof. I.V. Montelongo:
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.) Please just staple your papers in the upper left hand corner. You may use a title page if you like, but please avoid plastic covers. [However, in English 0310 use no title page, and do not staple! O.W.]
4.) 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.
5.) Writing style counts. You need to revise 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," or for "using too many hard words," since readers might simply conclude that you are too ignorant or slow to understand and appreciate it!
Critical approaches to literature that stress the validity of reader response to a text, theorizing that each interpretation is valid in the context from which a reader approaches a text.
Reader-response criticism arose as a critical theory in response to formalist interpretations of literature. Unlike the latter, which stressed the primacy of the text and an objective interpretation of it based on established criteria, advocates of reader-response criticism focused on the importance of the reader and their individual, subjective response to the text. One of the earliest proponents of this theory was Louise Rosenblatt, who stated in her Literature as Exploration (1938) that “a poem is what the reader lives through under the guidance of the text and experiences as relevant to the text.” The significance Rosenblatt and other reader-response critics placed on the reader was in direct opposition to the position taken by formalist critics in the past—for them, the text was the primary focus, and its impact on the reader or the idea that the reader's response was in any way relevant in the interpretation of the work was inconceivable.
In addition to Rosenblatt, other influential reader-response critics include Stanley Fish and Wolfgang Iser, both of whom argued against regarding literary works as objects. In his essay on reader-response criticism, Steven Mailloux explains that Fish, Iser, and other reader-response critics actually had very different approaches to the critical study of literary texts. However, all of them were unanimous in their rejection of the “affective fallacy” theory proposed by William K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley in an influential essay in 1949. In this essay, Wimsatt and Beardsley stated their misgivings about what they termed as “obstacles to objective criticism” and the dangers of “intentional fallacy” (defined as confusion between the text and its origins) and “affective fallacy” (explained as the distinction that should be made between what a text is and what it does). According to Wimsatt and Beardsley, as well as many other formalist critics, the effect of the text on the reader should be irrelevant to the study of the text because this type of approach leads to the destruction of the text as an object of “specifically critical judgment.” In contrast, reader-response critics advocated the primacy of a reader's response to the text, stressing that there was no such thing as an “objectively correct interpretation,” says Mailloux.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, reader-response criticism, influenced in part by trends in other disciplines, especially psychology and psychoanalytical theories, expanded to include a study of the reader as subject, a combination of various social practices, defined and positioned socially by his or her environment. This shift from the relationship between reader and text, and their mutual impact, to a focus on self-knowledge and observation has been summarized in anthologies, including Jane Tompkins's Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Poststructuralism (1980). Recent works by critics including David Bleich, Normal Holland, and even Stanley Fish, have also expanded the focus of reader-response theory to include the validity and significance of interpretations guided by the environments or communities inhabited by the readers. This is a departure from their earlier-held position, which emphasized the primacy of the relationship between reader and text, regardless of environment. Fish, in particular, laid out his theories regarding interpretive strategies, which, he stated, are shared by “interpretive communities” in several essays during the 1980s and later. In his study of the history of reader-response criticism, Terence R. Wright explains that while the field has expanded its boundaries to include numerous approaches, the concern reader-response critics have with the act of reading remains constant. What has changed is the awareness these theorists now have of the ways in which environment, history, politics, and even sexual orientation, can affect a reader's response to a text. This expansion of criteria has led many contemporary critics to refer to this type of critical theory as reader-oriented criticism rather than reader-response criticism.