Online Writing Lab

Responding to an Essay

A response is a common writing assignment that often accompanies a summary.  Once a writer has summarized a piece of literature, he/she may be asked to respond to it.  Unlike a summary, a response is a subjective opinion about the piece and, as such, can include opinions and personal experiences as long as they are supported.

The key to writing a good response is to always be specific and support any and all points made.  What, specifically, from the essay are you responding to?  And how and why, specifically, do you agree or disagree with this point? 

In a sense, writing a response is similar to writing a detailed argument essay.  An argument essay involves laying out a debatable claim (thesis) and supporting it with a variety of evidence.  In a response, your thesis is your overall opinion of the essay you are responding to (which is certainly debatable) and should be supported in a similar manner.   Be sure to support every point of response with personal experiences, examples, or facts obtained from research.

Here is a list of some common ways to respond to an essay:

  • Agree or disagree with the author’s main point or thesis.  (This should almost always be the initial basis for a response.) (Ex. Smith’s thesis that excessive television viewing has led to a denigration of personal communication is correct.)
  • Agree or disagree with the extent to which the thesis is made (Ex. While Smith is correct in asserting some of the problems associated with excessive television viewing, he oversimplifies television's effect and fails to address other potential causes.)
  • Agree or disagree with specific points that are made that relate to the thesis (Ex. While Smith’s overall thesis is justified, he takes his argument too far with several points made in paragraph #4.)
  • Agree or disagree with specific evidence that is offered in support of the thesis (Ex. Some of the evidence offered by Smith lacks credibility.)
  • Agree or disagree with the relevancy of the overall topic (Ex. Not only is Smith’s claim correct, but the issue should be expanded and discussed further as new technologies emerge that have a similar effect on society.)