How to Write a Response Paper

Most of the time, when you are writing an essay about a book or article you've read for a class, you will be expected to write in a professional and impersonal voice. But the regular rules change a bit when you write a response paper.

A response (or reaction) paper represents a bit of a twist on a formal review of a book, artwork, or article, because response papers are written from the first person point of view.  This simply means that you can and should use phrases  like “I thought” and “I believe” when reviewing. 

It may seem awkward to do this at first, because phrases like "I think" have been frowned upon (or marked plain wrong) in previous assignments. 

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Read and Respond

© Grace Fleming

In a response paper, you will still need to write a formal assessment of the work you're observing (this could be a film, a work of art, or a book), but you will also add your own personal reaction and impressions to the report.

The steps for completing a reaction or response paper are:

  • Observe or read the piece for an initial understanding
  • Mark interesting pages with a sticky flag
  • Re-read the marked pieces and stop to reflect often
  • Record your thoughts and impressions in notes
  • Develop a thesis
  • Write an outline
  • Construct your essay


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The First Paragraph

© Grace Fleming

Once you have established an outline for your paper, you'll need to craft the first draft of an essay using all the basic elements found in any strong essay, including a strong introductory sentence.

In the case of a reaction paper, the first sentence should contain both the title of the object to which you are responding, and the name of the author.

The last sentence of your introductory paragraph should contain a thesis statement. That statement will make your overall opinion very clear.

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Stating Your Opinion

© Grace Fleming

There's no need to feel shy about expressing your own opinion in a position paper, even though it may seem strange to write "I feel" or "I believe" in an essay. The instructor is actually looking for this.

In the sample here, the writer does a good job of analyzing and comparing the plays, but also manages to express personal reactions.

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Sample Statements

A response paper could address any type of work, from a piece of art or a film to a book. When writing a response paper, you can include statements like the following:

  • I felt that
  • In my opinion
  • The reader can conclude that
  • The author seems to
  • I did not like
  • The images seemed to
  • The author was [was not] successful in making me feel
  • I was especially moved by
  • I didn't get the connection between
  • It was clear that the artist was trying to
  • The sound track seemed too
  • My favorite part was...because

You can think of a response paper as a review that is part analysis and part opinion.

It might help to search for videos that contain professional movie reviews. Watch several of these to get a feel for the tone of a professional review.

Tip: Remember to keep it nice; a common mistake in personal essays it to resort to insulting or nasty comments with no clear explanation or analysis. 

In Summary

It may be helpful to imagine yourself watching a movie review as you're preparing your outline. You will use the same framework for your response paper: a summary of the work with several of your own thoughts and assessments mixed in.