Guide for Writing a Reaction Paper
A reaction paper is a common assignment in most high schools and universities. It gives students the chance to show their understanding of source material by asking them to summarize, analyze, and give their personal opinion. A reaction paper requires critical thinking as well as creative writing skills, so it can be a challenge to write. Whether you were looking for the answer on how to write a reaction paper about a movie, how to write a reaction paper example, or how to write a reaction paper to an article, you will learn everything you need including a step-by-step guide and an outline here!
What is Reaction Paper?
A reaction paper is a written assignment that asks a student to briefly summarize and then give personal opinions about a book, article, video, etc. Unlike a critique or review, the main focus is on the personal opinions, thoughts, feelings, and reactions of the student.
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How to Write a Good Reaction Paper?
Writing a reaction paper takes time and effort and there are several steps to take before getting to the actual writing. These steps will help you understand the source material as well as help structure the eventual paper.
What is the purpose?
Not all reaction papers have the same purpose. While all of them ask you to analyze and give opinions about the source material, the focus of the analysis can be different. Make sure you carefully read the guidelines of the assignment and if you have any questions ask your professor for clarifications.
- Figure out whether the emphasis should be on the analysis or on your personal opinion and reaction.
- The professor may ask you to react to the source material in a way that relates to the course that you are taking. For example, a reaction paper for a sociology class will be different from a reaction paper for an economics class even if the source material is the same.
- Sometimes you may be asked to compare one source material to another piece of writing similar to a compare and contrast essay.
- A reaction paper can focus more on objective analysis or subjective opinion
- Remember that the goal of a reaction paper is not just to state your opinion. Any claim you make must be backed up by evidence from the source material.
- The purpose of a reaction paper is not to say whether you liked the source material or not, it is to analyze it and connect its deeper meanings to larger themes.
Go over the source material several times
Just because it's called a reaction paper doesn't mean you can get away with going over the source material once and then quickly writing down what you felt about it. Even if you are trying to learn how to write a reaction paper to a movie, you can't just watch the movie once. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to go over the source material at least a few times. Not only do you have to understand every element of the source material, but you also need time to process, think about, analyze, and make connections.
While it's good to think about deeper concepts when going through the source material for the first time, just focus on getting a general feeling about the article or movie. Focus on your specific insights and reactions when going over the source material for the second and third times.
What to do after your first go through
After the first time you read the article or watch the video, spend some time writing down your initial reactions. Think of this as a brainstorming session where there are no bad ideas, write down whatever you want. This can include opinions of what you thought the strengths and weaknesses were, what you liked and didn't like, deeper meanings and connections that jumped out at you, connections to your course, etc.
The importance of notes
After you have your initial reactions down, it's time to go over the source material again and take in-depth notes. If it’s an article or a book, print it out so that you can take notes in the margins. Highlight important quotes or pieces of information, draw arrows connecting different sections, write yourself notes and reminders in the margins, draw diagrams that help you understand the structure of the article, do whatever helps you understand the material better. No one else is going to see the notes you make so be as creative as you want to be. The more time you spend taking notes the better you will understand the source material and the easier writing the reaction paper will be.
Craft a thesis statement
Think of a thesis statement for a reaction paper as the main takeaway from your analysis. A good thesis statement is concise and focused. It should help guide the rest of your paper with every paragraph lending support to your thesis statement. You can come up with a thesis statement by asking yourself what the goal of the author was, how the source material impacts the world, what are the motivations of the main characters, what was the purpose of the source material, what were the major strengths or weaknesses of the source material, etc.
Making a reaction paper outline is a useful endeavor because it helps organize your notes and understand the flow of the paper overall. A reaction paper follows a typical five-paragraph essay format with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The next section will go in-depth into how to write a reaction paper section by section.
In general, the first introductory paragraph should contain a brief summary of the source material. The body paragraphs should start with a clear topic sentence followed by evidence for the claim that you are making, and the conclusion should reiterate the thesis and main evidence.
When making an outline, write down the topic sentence and then a quick list of evidence that backs it up. Make sure that each paragraph connects to your thesis statement so that you don't lose focus during the paper. A useful way to structure each paragraph is to first elaborate on something from the source material and then give your opinion backed by evidence.
Once you have an outline and understand how the paragraphs will be structured, go through your notes and find specific quotations from the text that back up your claims. Don't just list quotations, make sure you analyze them and explain why they are important as evidence. Depending on the word count of the assignment you should limit the length of quotations and paraphrase when necessary.
Revise and Edit
Once you're done writing your paper make sure that you go over it a few times. This is to get rid of typos and other silly mistakes, but more importantly to check for flow and clarity. You may find that certain paragraphs work better in a different order, or even that certain topic sentences don't back up the thesis statement. This is your chance to make your paper the best it can possibly be, so make sure you spend some time reviewing and editing.
Double-check your assignment guidelines
It's always a good idea to check your assignment guidelines once you are done with any type of assignment. You’ve put in all the hard work and you don't want to get a lower grade than you deserve because of something silly. Question what the assignment guidelines are asking you to do and make sure that you have followed all the rules.
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How to Write a Reaction Paper
A reaction paper follows a typical five-paragraph format structure of essay writing. Let's take a look at each section.
Like any type of writing, the first sentence of a reaction paper should engage the reader and make them want to find out more. Write a catchy hook by making a provocative statement about the source material, hinting at an interesting conclusion or reaction, stating an interesting fact or anecdote, etc.
Next, give some background information about the source material including the name of the article, the author, where and when it was published, any awards won, etc.
Follow this up with a concise summary of the source material. Remember, the goal of a reaction paper is to objectively analyze and then give personal opinions backed by evidence, so don’t take a lot of time on the summary in the introduction. The goal of the summary is to give readers an idea of what the source material is about, so highlight the most important elements and skip details. Specific information about the source material will come up as quotations and evidence in the body paragraphs.
End with your thesis statement.
Depending on the purpose of the assignment, your first body paragraph may be an expanded version of a summary or evaluation of the source material.
More typically the body paragraphs are where you talk about your reactions to the source material and back it up with evidence. Make sure that each body paragraph talks only about 1 claim you are making and that each body paragraph relates to your thesis statement. You can ask yourself the following questions to come up with ideas for specific body paragraphs.
- What were the main themes of the source material and how do they connect with your thesis statement?
- Is there a connection between the source material and real-world events?
- How does the source material relate to your course?
- What are the major claims that the source material is making?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the source material and why?
- Did the source material impact your emotions in any way and how did it achieve it?
- Did the source material change your perspective on an important issue?
The conclusion paragraph should restate your thesis as well as the topic sentences of each paragraph. Concisely explain the main pieces of evidence you have used to support your thesis, and briefly speak about any larger implications of the work.
You may be required to have a brief work cited page. This will usually be quite short because the main source is the specific source material. Just make sure to know what citation convention you need to use.
A reaction paper is one of the most enjoyable assignments for a student because it allows you to experience and give your opinion about something you like, if you were given the freedom to choose the source material, or something interesting if it was assigned by the professor. The most important thing to remember is to stay as objective as possible while expressing your opinion by backing up any claim you make with evidence.
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