Response Essay Definition

Response or reaction essay, as it is understood from the name, is written in response to something – to a book, a movie, a musical track, a speech, a drawing, a new trend in fashion – virtually anything. It is, therefore, highly personalized; unlike, e.g., book report it isn’t limited with mere descriptions, it is supposed to convey your opinion and message.

As response essays are most likely based on books, we will give you some tips on how to write a response essay on a text, although the same tips are easily applied to any other subject matter:

  • Determine your attitude to the text in all its aspects: style, idea the author tries to convey, etc.
  • When you read the text, make notes, mark the fragments that seem interesting to you, memorize details.
  • In the process of writing, try to pay as much attention to details as it is possible; be original, even peculiar in their interpretation. Only the author knows what he or she intended to say about this or that, and your teacher is hardly this very author.
  • Notice stylistic devices at all levels, from metaphors and similes to zeugmas and parallel constructions. You may either concentrate your attention on them, or just make it obvious that you see them. But God forbid you from enumerating them!

When you are assigned a response essay, the teacher wants to see how you interpret things, be it a literary text or something else, what conclusions you can make out of this or that material, how you express your opinions. Try to make these opinions as interesting as possible, never write what you think the teacher wants you to write.

Believe us – the teacher has already read similar works hundreds of times. Write something new and unusual, based on assumption even you consider to be far-fetched but original, and you will attract his attention.

Response essay will be different according to your exact assignment, but general outline is like this:

  • Thesis statement. Here you say what you are going to write about, what aspect you will concentrate on.
  • Body. Elaborate on your thesis. Give the author’s opinion on it; prove your own idea by quotations, examples and arguments. Base your writing on facts, rather than personal impressions.
  • Conclusion. Return to the beginning, say why you think your point is proved or disproved, summarize the most important points.

Example of response essay written in the proper manner can be found here.


A thesis might be about some trends in the use of images in the work or about parallels with the author's own life.


The body of the response essay is a careful working through of the work in question, examining all relevant aspects of it. Usually there is too much to work with so you need to focus your work on a limited number of points.

Some of the ways you read through a work of literature include

  • identify literary devices such as simile, metaphor, image, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoiea and others and show how they help to convey the overall meaning of the work.
  • find themes which are addressed in various parts of the work and show how they contribute to the overall meaning.
  • find the roots of words such as the Greek or Latin roots or archaic usage and show how the writer has used these deeper meanings to add layers of complexity to his work.
  • relate aspects of the work to the author's own life or experience.

All you have to do is state that the bulk of your evidence supports your thesis. If there are any major arguments against your thesis, you can take one more shot at them.

What is the maker looking for?

A new analysis of an old work might be a good start. Find subtle points, which support your argument, which you haven't seen, presented in other essays. A creative thesis is a good start, but beware of trying to make a work of art say something, which the author couldn't have possibly intended. (There's a whole bunch of critical theory around this,but unless you are working on a graduate level essay, just stick to things relevant to the author.)

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Here are the examples of the popular response essay topics:

  • The Movie I Can Watch Over and Over
  • The Article That Changed My Philosophy
  • Responses to Documentaries
  • Yellow Press
  • The Fashion Tendencies of Fall 2010
  • The New Album of My Favorite Band
  • New Theories in Business Environments

These essay topics can give you an idea where to start. Whatever your subject will be you should show your personal thoughts, personality and attitude.

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