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Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions





This section contains the following chapters:

E. "Response to Readings" Chapters:

     24. What Is a "Response"?--How to Respond to a Reading

     25. How to Read Texts--Reading, Fast and Slow

     26. Summary--Duplicating and Condensing Thoughts

     27. Analysis--Seeing from Differing Viewpoints

     28. Disagreement--How to Take an Opposite View

     29. Evaluation--How to Judge Fairly & Thoroughly

     30. Critical Review--Summarizing, Arguing, & Evaluating


This Page's Contents:

What Is This Section?

My Story about College Reading



This section, "Response to Readings," helps you understand perhaps the most important single element of introductory writing in college: an assignment in which you must respond to a reading, situation, or event.  While writing research papers is of great importance, too--and all of the papers in this section also can lend themselves easily to research writing, as well--instructors often test your knowledge, expect you to think, or otherwise require your active writing in response to one or more readings, or sometimes a situation or event.

There are a number of ways to respond to readings (or situations or events), and this section explores many of the most basic or common ways you may be asked to respond.  The section starts by defining more clearly just what an instructor thinks is a "good" response (with "good" being defined in many different ways, according to the assignment, the discipline, and the instructor).  Though the chapters all discuss how to respond specifically to a reading, most of them also are talking about responses of varying kinds to situations or events, as well.

There are some tricks and secrets to reading and observing well in college.  These are discussed, including how to read large amounts of assigned materials efficiently.  For a discussion of accurate observation, see

The final five chapters discuss five very different types of responses to readings.  "Summary," "Analysis," and "Disagreement" are by far the most common.  However, the final two--"Evaluation" and "Critical Review"--not only help you develop your college-level judgment but also prepare you for writing you may need to perform in your upper-division courses in college or in courses in graduate school.

If you find yourself needing to respond to literary works, there is an entirely separate section on that type of writing.  See "Section H. Literature."


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My Story about College Reading

This is a simple, interesting story about my growth as a reader in college.  The first time I became really, really excited about college reading and writing was in my fourth semester of college. 

I was taking "Humanities III" from Mr. Golding at Shimer College.  The course was primarily about world literature, and we also studied aesthetics--philosophy of literature and art--and wrote several major papers.  You may remember my brief discussion--in the "How I Started" chapter of the previous section--about my great writing experience in Mr. Golding's class. 

At first, in this same world literature class, Mr. Golding seemed very strict and formal, calling each of us "Mr. Jewell," "Miss Reuben," etc.  He started each week by lecturing.  At first I thought his lectures, like most other instructors' lectures, would be filled with information that, however important to his discipline, would be boring.  However, he managed three surprises.  First, he unfolded the confusing passages and the deeper meanings of each novel so that we found ourselves in an amazing world of concepts and effects.  Second, he watched our faces as he spoke, and whenever more than one or two of us seemed not to understand him, he would stop and explain in clearer language.  Third, not only was he, himself, really enthusiastic about the literature we all were reading, but he also conveyed that enthusiasm to the rest of us.  The combined effect of these three qualities of his presentation made the class a fascinating experience.

In the latter part of each week, he would engage us in discussion.  At first I was afraid to contribute, for I had other instructors who took "discussion" to mean an opportunity to argue with students himself or, at the least, to scoff at their ideas.  However, Mr. Golding gave us his utmost respect.  When he opened the floor to discussion, he would ask some questions, and then he would lean back against his front table and coordinate.  He would encourage opposing views, always greet each idea, no matter how silly or off base, with aplomb, and only intercede to help clarify our comments to each other or to keep us talking respectfully to each other.  I learned quite a bit through the discussions, one of the few times in my first four semesters of college that this was so.

The real excitement for me was in discovering myself as a good academic writer.  I had had few classes before that in which I had to write, and in the ones where I had, I always felt I was trying to learn how to write in a secret code that the instructor would not reveal, and that I had to be careful not to use my own beliefs.  Mr. Golding encouraged us, instead, to develop our own interpretations of our literature.  We did, in each paper, have to apply a reading from philosophy to one of the books for that period of time.  However, we were free to apply it in any way we wanted, just as long as we could support what we were saying well with quotations from both the philosophy and the literature.  I received a "B" on my first paper and then three "A's."

A cynic might argue that I just happened to finally find the kind of instructor and the kind of course material that best suited me, and that might be true.  I do, in fact, tend to enjoy world literature more than American literature, and I so much enjoyed the philosophy part of Mr. Golding's course that I moved on to a philosophy major.  

Even so, there were two or three aspects of Mr. Golding's teaching--and my learning style--that joined.  First, I learned to mark up my textbooks--my literature books--more than ever in his class.  I would write comments in the page margins as I read, more comments as we talked about the book in class, and even more comments during a second reading of the parts of the book I would use to write a paper.  By the end, some pages of my books were so dense with notes that I had to continue writing them on one or more of the following pages.  

Second, Mr. Golding was the first college instructor to ever describe how to write a paper.  I have to admit that I was the person in the class who asked him most of the questions about how to develop our papers.  However, once asked, he gave us quite a bit of useful information.  Other instructors avoided answering such questions and expected us to have already learned it somehow--to have magically absorbed it from the air or from the great masters we were reading.  Mr. Golding, however, described to us briefly but clearly exactly what he wanted in both structure and method--a clear, specific, interesting thesis; several main supporting reasons; a good number of quotations; and good explanations and transitions.  In those days (long before most colleges had separate composition courses), the relatively brief time he spent on writing instruction was a blessing.  

In addition, he truly did let us develop our own ideas in our papers.  If we adequately supported these ideas with plenty of quotations that logically worked, he would grade us well, even if he didn't necessarily believe what we were saying himself.  He was more interested in seeing us actually practice analyzing our literature and arguing about it using a theory.  His interest in helping us develop as thinkers and writers showed, finally, in his comments on our papers.  They did not agree or disagree with our ideas and beliefs, but rather only with how well or poorly we constructed our argument and our paper.  His interest was to help us write better papers next time.

Are you reading this because you must write about readings?  Instructors have a wide variety of styles in teaching writing about readings.  Perhaps two of the most important tools you can learn from the chapters in this section are how to use critical reading methods, and how to ask the right questions of your own instructor about exactly what kind of paper he or she wants.  The key to the first is to mark up the pages of your readings--a lot.  And the key to the second is, simply, to speak up and ask.


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24. What Is a "Response"?

25. How to Read Texts

26. Summary

27. Analysis

28. Disagreement

29. Evaluation

30. Critical Review





 Related Links in

  3. Thinking & Reading

12. Types of Papers

14. Online Readings

16. Research Writing

Updated 6 Aug. 2013

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1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012.
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted.
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Images courtesy of Barry's Clip Art, Clip Art Warehouse, The Clip Art Universe, Clipart Collection, MS Clip Art Gallery and Design Gallery Live, School Discovery, and Web Clip Art
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.