Inver Hills Community College


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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



Chapter 24: What Is a "Response" to a Reading?

Why are responses needed? What are intelligent responses?



What is a response to an expository reading?  It is, simply, your own written thought about an academic text. Expository texts are almost always nonfiction essays and are considered academic writing or, sometimes, professional writing.  An expository text, for example, could be a short essay interpreting history, a book about politics, a long newspaper editorial, or a printed speech on an intelligent topic.  Typical written responses to expository texts include summaries of readings, analyses, disagreements with them, evaluations of them, and reviews.  Specific examples of expository texts are Plato's Republic, St. Augustine's City of God,  and the works of Sigmund Freud.   Expository speeches include Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech.

Why & How?

Why write responses to expository texts?  The most immediate answer is because sometimes you are expected to.  A majority of college courses--especially those beyond the first year or the lower-division required sequences--expect you to develop your own thoughts about what you are learning.  Much of this learning occurs through texts, and at many colleges, you are required to write down your thoughts about those texts.  Such writing sometimes may be free form: what often is called journaling, freewriting, or brainstorming.  More often, however, if you are expected to write, then you are assigned formal papers, ones using certain patterns or methods of thinking.  That is what this section is about: how to learn and use these patterns in writing.

So, the first answer to the question of why you should write such papers is that sometimes it is required.  However, this answer does not really go to the more important question, "Of what value is such writing?"  People moan and groan about writing papers, they wait until the last minute to do them, and they get frustrated--or worse yet, feel personally wounded--when they receive their grades.  Much of this, of course, can be avoided by learning ahead of time how to write such papers so that you know what is expected.  However, in spite of the complaints, most people who successfully learn how to write college papers recognize that they have learned how to think better or differently in one or more ways.  Writing helps you remember what you have read, connect ideas to each other, and develop new ideas about a subject.  It also may help you connect the subject to real life--yours or others'.  These are some of the powers of writing.  Why do they happen?  Writing is a form of thinking.

This idea is so important that it bears repeating: writing is a form of thinking.  Talking is, too.  Listening carefully to a lecture (or reading a book thoughtfully) is a different form of thinking.  Taking notes is, too.  Seeing and making visual examples of a lecture or textbook idea are yet two more forms of thinking.  Each type of thinking uses different pathways in your brain; as a result, each one processes thought differently in your mind.  The greater the number of methods you use, the more likely you are to remember the material and the more thoroughly you will understand it.  This becomes obvious if you examine the value of talking, which is one way of developing thoughts.  Children, for example, talk incessantly, repeating what they hear, asking questions until they drive their parents crazy, and talking with their friends as they grow older.  Such talk helps them understand, remember, and apply what they know.  If all people talked about their school subjects as much as they talk about their personal lives, the general public would be highly educated.  Talking alone can accomplish quite a bit of thinking; when other forms of thinking are added to it, the overall affect is powerful.

A written response to a text is an opportunity to think: to process what you have read more thoroughly so that you can remember it and also make it your own.  Language is in many ways the primary method a person uses for communicating, not only with others but also within himself or herself as a thinking individual.  Thoughts are not formed ahead of time and waiting in some kind of thought library in a person's head.  Rather, talking and writing are thoughts--they are thoughts just as much as the private thinking you may do inside your head, except that talking and writing are versions of thinking "out loud."  By using language--by talking and writing--each individual builds her own sense of self, her sense of the world, and her values more widely and more deeply.  Responding to texts is a primary method of thinking in college.

What is the best way to respond to texts?  As mentioned above, some instructors do encourage spontaneous journaling or freewriting about what you have read.  Others wish you to take "notes"--either using a formula they provide or as spontaneous responses.  Such responses are very helpful, as they help you collect your thoughts about what you have read and focus them.  They also help you better remember the content of your text.  However, many instructors want a formal response--graded or not--that shows signs of intelligent reading and thinking.  Intelligent responses usually exhibit at least a few of the following traits:




It demonstrates familiarity with and understanding of the text by referring to it often.


It offers new or unusual insights about the text.


While it may contain some emotional response, it does so with balance and respect for the text.


It uses an organizational plan to present its ideas about the text, step by step.


It uses logic and reason in presenting its ideas..

Well Supported:

It offers reasonable supporting details for the ideas it develops about the text


What are some of the main methods of responding?  There are many, and each academic discipline has one or more of its own methods for responding to texts.  However, most of these methods can be summarized as one of five major types.  The five types may exist as general assignments (e.g., "Please analyze the interaction you just observed between two people" or "State your disagreements and agreements with the essay you just read"), or they may exist in slightly altered discipline-based assignments (e.g., "Analyze a painting by Picasso using basic the elements of visual art" or "Evaluate the quality of your own oral presentation using the criteria of what constitutes a good speech").  However they are presented, you can prepare for them by learning them in their basic, most simple patterns first:

Summary--a simple, factual stating of the main points

Analysis--a taking apart; a showing of the parts or pieces

Disagreement--an opposing of part or all of a text

Evaluation--a judging of the overall quality of a text 

Critical Review--a combining of several of the above responses

What is the purpose of these different responses? 
Each type has its own purposes, and each is good not only for college, but also--and perhaps more importantly--for your professional life and in your personal life:



A formal, logical, consistent way of highlighting the main points.  Purpose: In school, to quickly and accurately describe something you have read; in professional life, to provide a faster-to-read version of the material to other readers; in personal life, to reflect as accurately as possible on people, events, and one's memories of them.


A taking apart of something to show its parts or pieces, often using a special system, theory, or set of theories.  Purpose: In school, to think more about a subject and/or to apply the methods of an academic discipline to a specific text; in professional life, to apply a system or idea to a specific situation so that others understand how to use something; in personal life, to examine one's own thoughts, actions, and motives logically and consistently from a variety of perspectives.


A debate against a text, as if it were your opponent.  Purpose: In school, to disprove something you have read in a logical, fair fashion; in professional life, to stop something from happening by showing logically and thoroughly why it should not be; in personal life, to be able to hold rational arguments with oneself--to be able to logically oppose one's own thinking to test it for weaknesses, limitations, or faults.


A judgment of the value of a text to society or the quality of the way it is argued or organized.  Purpose: In school, to show how well or poorly something has been done, or its effects on others beyond its main ideas; in professional life, to help decide who to hire, how well people are doing, and the quality and style of your own work; in personal life, to look not so much at the contents of one's own thinking and acting, but rather at the quality and value of that thinking and acting.

Critical Review

A mixture of summary, analysis/disagreement, and evaluation.  Purpose: In school, a critical review is a recognized formal way to fully discuss a book, movement, or idea; in professional life, it is a thorough, useful method for presenting your overall judgments to others in your workplace by first summarizing and analyzing, and only after that by evaluating; in personal life, to use a consistent set of problem-solving steps--summary, analysis/disagreement, and evaluation--to solve personal problems.



Writing responses is one of the most important thinking activities you may accomplish while in college.  If you do not learn them in college, you certainly will need to learn most or all of them--in some form or fashion--in your future professional life and your own personal life if you wish to grow, be challenged, and challenge others productively and positively in your life.


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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 1 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.
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Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.