Reviews and Reaction Papers

Reaction Papers

Some assignments may require you to formulate a reaction to your readings, to your instructor’s lectures and comments, or even to your classmates, including those in your online courses. You may even be asked to write a reaction assignment in a journal. Reaction writing may be informal or formal and is primarily analytical; reactions may be included in critiques, reviews, illustrations of ideas, or judgments of a concept or theory.

Reactions require close reading of the text you are reacting to. Like reviews, reactions go beyond the literal content of the text, requiring that you bring to the text meaning not explicitly stated, to elaborate on or explore the implications of the author’s ideas. Your reactions may include your subjective interpretations; you may even use the first-person narrator “I.” Your reaction paper need not follow the organization and ordering of the text you are writing about; in fact, reactions can begin with the last point the author made and then move to other points made earlier. Reactions can be about one or many of the author’s ideas. Although the reactions are focused on your own thinking, you can also include summaries, paraphrases, or quotations from the examined text.

The organization of a reaction varies according to the audience, purpose, and limitations of your assignment. You may use a general-to-specific or specific-to-general organization. You may use a structured format, such as those for argument, or you may use an informal one of your choosing. However you organize your reaction paper, be sure that your approach emphasizes and reflects your analysis and serious consideration of the author’s text.

Writing reactive assignments enables you to examine relationships of ideas among the various parts of the passages, and between the author’s ideas about a given topic and your preexisting knowledge of and experiences with the topic. When you relate your own ideas to the author’s, you can bring your personal knowledge and experience to bear on the topic in such a way as to analyze the author’s message in a familiar context. When you carry on a dialogue with the author, you are expanding and speculating on the author’s ideas—entering an academic conversation with the author.

Writing reactions usually calls for an expressive writing style in which you can let your thoughts flow, be imaginative, and experiment with language. Although reactions often seem like freewriting or reacting in continuous writing, you want to organize your thoughts with a thesis, introduction and conclusion, and supporting statements. In fact, your reaction may take the form of a formal or informal argument. (Refer to the discussion in this chapter on writing arguments for details.)

Consider these general steps as you plan your writing:

  1. First, freewrite in order to expand and speculate on the author’s ideas.

  2. Decide on your working thesis statement.

  3. Select and prioritize the particular reactions you want to include.

  4. Decide on your organization and format (e.g., online or formal writing assignment).

  5. Draft your reaction paper.

  6. Write your introduction and concluding paragraphs.

  7. Revise your final thesis statement and draft.

  • A reaction paper requires you to formulate analysis and reaction to a given body of material such as readings, lectures, or student presentations.

  • The purpose of a reaction paper assignment is to focus your thinking on a topic after a close examination of the source material.

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