Writing Effective Summary and Response Essays
A summary is a concise paraphrase of all the main ideas in an essay. It cites the author and the title (usually in the first sentence); it contains the essay's thesis and supporting ideas; it may use direct quotation of forceful or concise statements of the author's ideas; it will NOT usually cite the author's examples or supporting details unless they are central to the main idea. Most summaries present the major points in the order that the author made them and continually refer back to the article being summarized (i.e. "Damon argues that ..." or "Goodman also points out that ... "). The summary should take up no more than one-third the length of the work being summarized.
A response is a critique or evaluation of the author's essay. Unlike the summary, it is composed of YOUR opinions in relation to the article being summarized. It examines ideas that you agree or disagree with and identifies the essay's strengths and weaknesses in reasoning and logic, in quality of supporting examples, and in organization and style. A good response is persuasive; therefore, it should cite facts, examples, and personal experience that either refutes or supports the article you're responding to, depending on your stance.
Two Typical Organizational Formats for Summary/Response Essays:
1. Present the summary in a block of paragraphs, followed by the response in a block:
Summary (two to three paragraphs)
Agreement (or disagreement)
Disagreement (or agreement)
Note: Some essays will incorporate both agreement and disagreement in a response, but this is not mandatory.
2. Introduce the essay with a short paragraph that includes your thesis. Then, each body paragraph summarizes one point and responds to it, and a conclusion wraps the essay up.
Summary point one; agree/disagree
Summary point two; agree/disagree
Summary point three; agree/disagree
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Writing a Reaction or Response Essay
Reaction or response papers are usually requested by teachers so that you'll consider carefully what you think or feel about something you've read. The following guidelines are intended to be used for reacting to a reading although they could easily be used for reactions to films too. Read whatever you've been asked to respond to, and while reading, think about the following questions.
- How do you feel about what you are reading?
- What do you agree or disagree with?
- Can you identify with the situation?
- What would be the best way to evaluate the story?
Keeping your responses to these questions in mind, follow the following prewriting steps.
Prewriting for Your Reaction PaperThe following statements could be used in a reaction/response paper. Complete as many statements as possible, from the list below, about what you just read.
I think that
I see that
I feel that
It seems that
In my opinion,
A good quote is
What you've done in completing these statements is written a very rough reaction/response paper. Now it needs to be organized. Move ahead to the next section.
Organizing Your Reaction PaperA reaction/response paper has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
- The introduction should contain all the basic information in one or two paragraphs.
Sentence 1: This sentence should give the title, author, and publication you read.
Sentence 2, 3, and sometimes 4:
These sentences give a brief summary of what you read (nutshell) Sentence 5: This sentence is your thesis statement. You agree, disagree, identify, or evaluate.
- Your introduction should include a concise, one sentence, focused thesis. This is the focused statement of your reaction/response. More information on thesis statements is available.
- The body should contain paragraphs that provide support for your thesis. Each paragraph should contain one idea. Topic sentences should support the thesis, and the final sentence of each paragraph should lead into the next paragraph.
Topic Sentence detail -- example --quotation --detail -- example -- quotation -- detail -- example -- quotation -- detail -- example --quotation Summary Sentence
You can structure your paragraphs in two ways:
OR Author in contrast to You
- The conclusion can be a restatement of what you said in your paper. It also be a comment which focuses your overall reaction. Finally, it can be a prediction of the effects of what you're reacting to. Note: your conclusion should include no new information.
More information on strategies for writing conclusions is available.
SummaryIn summary, this handout has covered prewriting and organizing strategies for reaction/response papers.
- Read the article and jot down ideas.
- How do you feel about what was said?
- Do you agree or disagree with the author?
- Have you had any applicable experience?
- Have you read or heard anything that applies to this what the writer said in the article or book?
- Does the evidence in the article support the statements the writer made?
- Write the thesis statement first.
- Decide on the key points that will focus your ideas. These will be your topic sentences.
- Develop your ideas by adding examples, quotations, and details to your paragraphs.
- Make sure the last sentence of each paragraph leads into the next paragraph.
- Check your thesis and make sure the topic sentence of each paragraph supports it.
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This handout was written by Kathleen Cahill and revised for LEO by Judith Kilborn, the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.
Updated: 6 April 1999