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Effective Writing Center (EWC)

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Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 8 Table of Contents


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Chapter 8: Other Frequently Assigned Papers

Reviews and Reaction Papers

Reaction Papers

Some assignments may require you to formulate a reaction to your readings, to your instructor's lectures and comments, and even to your classmates, including in your online classes. You may even be asked to write a reaction assignment in a journal. Reaction writing may be informal or formal and is primarily analytical; reactions may be included in critiques, reviews, illustrations of ideas, or judgments of a concept or theory.

Reactions require close reading of the text you're reacting to. Like reviews, reactions go beyond the literal content of the text, requiring you to bring to the text meaning not explicitly stated, to elaborate on or explore the implications of the author's ideas. Your reactions may include your subjective interpretations; you may even use the first-person narrator "I." Your reaction paper is not required to follow the organization and ordering in the text. In fact, reactions can start with the final point made by the author and move to other points previously made. Reactions can be about one point or many points in the text. Although the reactions are focused on your own thinking, you can also include summaries, paraphrases, or quotations from the examined text.

The organization of a reaction varies according to the audience, purpose, and limitations for your assignment. You may use a general-to-specific or a specific-to-general organization. You may use a structured format, such as those for argument, or you may use an informal one of your choosing. However you organize your reaction paper, be sure that your approach emphasizes and reflects your analysis and serious consideration of the author's text.

Writing reactive assignments enables you to examine relationships of ideas among the various parts of the passages, and between the author's ideas about a given topic and your preexisting knowledge and experiences about the topic. When you relate your own ideas to those of the author, you can bring your personal knowledge and experience to bear on the topic in such a way as to analyze the author's message in a familiar context. When you carry on a dialogue with the author, you are expanding and speculating on the author's ideas - entering into an academic conversation with the author.

Writing reactions usually calls for an expressive writing style, where you can let your thoughts flow, be imaginative, and experiment with language. Although reactions often seem like freewriting or reacting in continuous writing, you want to organize your thoughts with a thesis, introduction and conclusion, and supporting statements. In fact, your reaction may take the form of a formal or informal argument. (Refer to the discussion on Writing Arguments for more details.)

Consider these general steps as you plan your writing:

  1. First, freewrite in order to expand and speculate on the author's ideas.

  2. Decide on your working thesis statement.

  3. Select and prioritize the particular reactions you want to include.

  4. Decide on your organization and format (e.g., online or formal writing assignment).

  5. Draft your reaction paper.

  6. Write your introduction and concluding paragraphs.

  7. Revise your final thesis statement and draft.

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