Writing A Reader-Response Essay
All one-page (about 250-400 words) responses should be single-spaced, typed, and free of misspellings and grammar problems.
Much of this course is designed around a simple idea: to become a good writer, you must write. The act of writing, however, is inextricably linked to the act of reading. Reading and writing are two halves of a communication process which forces us to think critically—to analyze and assess information, and then test the validity of that information against what we know through the use of our knowledge base and reason. Helping college students to become better critical thinkers is one of the main goals of the university. Therefore, in this course, you will be asked to read all your assignments with a critical eye, and to write thoughtful, probing essays about the assigned readings. NOTE: Stick to third person reference in these essays (no “I’s,” or “me’s,” or “you’s”). No need to tell us it’s you who’s doing the thinking—we already know this since it’s you who’s doing the writing.
The following is strongly suggested as a way of approaching both the reading and writing process:
Read through the assigned reading more than once before beginning the writing process.
On the first reading, just get a general idea/feeling of the essay or story. Don’t try to “figure it out.
Then, read the essay again:
1. How do you respond to the work?
2. How does the text shape your response?
3. How might other readers respond?
4. What complexities (or tensions, ironies, paradoxes, oppositions, ambiguities) can you find in the work?
5. What idea unifies the work, resolving these ambiguities?
6. What detail or images support this resolution (that is, connect the parts to the whole)?
7. Underline words or phrases you think might be important or unclear.
8. Write notes in the margins; begin a conversation with the text. Look up words you don’t understand.
After a second, more critical reading, begin the writing process. As with the reading process, the writing process is more than one step. Like a ceramic potter, you must dig up the clay and get it on the wheel before you start shaping the jar.
Start with an invention exercise. Invention exercises are the spades we use to dig up the clay for an essay. I will discuss two here.
The Freewrite: Freewriting is a method of accessing our subconscious, of breaking through those conscious limitations that block us from seeing or understanding ideas outside our normal mode of thinking. Just sit down with a pen and paper, or in front of the computer, think about your reading, then start writing. Write quickly whatever comes to you. Don’t worry about grammar, and don’t stop writing. If you can’t think of anything to say, say whatever is most obvious. The important thing is to keep the pen or keyboard moving. As a last resort, write “I can’t think of anything to say” until you think of something. If that fails, then read the essay again and then try once more. Set yourself a time limit for this free response; ten minutes is about right for most people. There’s no way to do this exercise incorrectly: just read carefully and respond, being as honest and involved as you can.
The Mind Map: Mindmapping is a way to visually see the clusters of ideas that occur when we think of a subject, and to make the connection between those ideas more clear. Start by writing the name of the essay or idea in the center of a piece of paper. Circle the word/s in a bubble, then meditate on that word or phrase and as ideas come to you mind, write those ideas down and circle them, drawing connections between the ideas as they come. You map may look something like this:
From such a map, you may be able to find connection and relations between ideas and objects that will enable you to start developing a thesis for your paper. Remember, you are trying to find a starting point, a place of reference that will help you to discuss the essay in an intelligent and thoughtful way.
Once you develop some connections and ideas about what you’d like to say about the essay, begin a rough draft of your essay. On this rough draft, don’t worry about spelling or grammar, just get the ideas down on paper—now that you’ve dug the clay, you need to get it on the wheel. After you get all your thoughts about the essay down on paper, print it out and read it over, making notes about changes you need to make for the second draft.
Then type up the final draft. Check for spelling and grammar problems.
I hope this helps. We’ll discuss all of this more in class. Have fun.