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Reaction – response essay writing guide

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When writing a reaction paper, you are required to analyse and interpret material for yourself. This is achieved by summarising the main points from an original text before analysing these ideas in relation to your own knowledge and experience on the topic. Use evidence from the original source throughout your essay – do not just regurgitate their words or ideas but instead show how you have interpreted them based on evidence from the text!

Before we proceed to learn how to write reaction paper step by step, let us first define what we mean by a reaction paper – also known as response paper, response essay or reaction essay.

What is reaction paper?

A reaction paper is an analysis of a text in which your opinion is being shared with the reader. It’s most commonly used in an academic setting to demonstrate how well you understand the material. A reaction essay can also be used as a tool to analyze and better understand the material yourself.

Parts / elements of reaction paper

A good reaction paper can be divided in 3 parts namely:

  1. Introduction,
  2. Body,
  3. Conclusion

These are the main elements of a reaction paper that constitutes a good reaction paper format or structure . In addition to these 3 parts of reaction paper, a reaction response essay must have a list of references at the end of the paper.

Reaction Paper Format and Structure

Let us now discuss each section of the essay:


An introduction of a response paper should include the following:

  • Brief background of the topic/text
  • A thesis statement (what you think about the text – one sentence): Known as “hook” to catch reader’s attention. It should be a clear and concise sentence that draws readers into your essay.
  • A list of facts or arguments from the original material that you will be covering in your body paragraphs. Try to avoid summarizing every single fact/argument, nobody wants to read an essay filled with nothing but summary! You can also choose to omit this section if you are worried that it might give away your opinion too early on in your response essay.

Body section:

It is in the body section of your essay where you get into more detail about what you believe after reading the source material. It is the bulk of your response essay and should provide evidence from the text to support your opinion (one paragraph per piece of evidence). How to write the body paragraphs in a reaction paper:

  • First, offer a broad explanation about the main points you noted down in your introduction.
  • Next, add further explanation or analysis based on the evidence you’ve presented: Why do you think this information is important? How can it relate to other things we know? What does it mean overall? What are its implications for … etc. Make sure that all of these analyses compliment each other and strengthen your overall argument while also proving why you believe what you do based on the text being analyzed.
  • Finally, try to connect everything back to your thesis in some way so that everything you’ve said is leading towards your opinion. You don’t want to incorporate a little bit of evidence from the original text and then take off on a tangent!


The reaction paper’s conclusion should restate your main argument / thesis from the introduction, linking back to earlier points made in your essay. It should be a sentence or two that can sum up everything you have written before in a clear and concise manner. The conclusion also acts as a bridge between this response piece and other texts/ideas that you have written about previously. It allows readers to see how all of the material ties together, which can add strength to arguments being put forth by both yourself and others academics whose work you may use in comparison with your own.

List of sources

Don’t forget to also keep track of all of your sources so that you can create a list of references at the end of the paper.

What to avoid when writing a reaction paper for college or high school

Below are 6 common mistakes many students commit when writing a response essay or reaction paper for college. Whilst writing your reaction paper, you should avoid:

  1. Writing a dry summary: The writer’s job is to adhere to the principle ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’ – but do not be repetitive – avoid word for word reproductions of sentences from the original text – summarise rather than quote!
  2. Getting bogged down with all the detail: The writer must select, omit and group ideas logically. By no means should you omit important details of an anecdote or incident but only cite the interesting parts.
  3. Writing in first person: A reaction paper is written as an academic essay – it does not include personal opinion or experience. Blogs are meant to be personal while academic papers are objective.
  4. Not stating whether you agree or disagree with the text’s main points: what does your reader gain from reading a summary of someone else’s opinion? Make clear your initial impression on hearing/reading the material before proceeding to present evidence that either confirms or challenges this impression. Your task is then to piece together all the ideas you have managed to formulate in presenting your analysis in a coherent sequence.
  5. Not acknowledging that you know the text in question: Never, ever write about someone else’s work without having read it yourself! You must demonstrate that you are familiar with the original source by citing specific details from the text throughout your essay. Use direct quotes when necessary to emphasise important ideas or make an argument sound more convincing.
  6. Mentioning your personal opinions on the topic of discussion at length: Though you may have strong views on some topics, they will not be appropriate for an academic paper due to their subjective nature. If drawn out over several paragraphs, this kind of material can transform your essay into a lengthy polemic rather than a formal response to another person’s work.

To write a perfect reaction essay, you need to avoid making the 6 mistakes mentioned above.

How to avoid plagiarism in reaction papers

It is often difficult to determine what constitutes plagiarism in reaction paper, as it does not involve the exact copying of another person’s work. Plagiarism encompases a number of issues described here.

Like in any other academic writing task, when writing a response paper, you should always remember that it is an academic offence to copy or use another person’s work without giving them the credit.

Do not fall into the trap of believing that paraphrasing material is enough to avoid accusations of plagiarism – even if you use different words to express similar ideas, you must cite where these ideas originally came from.

Reaction papers do not allow for substantial amounts of direct quotes without attribution to the source text through citations. As long as you write your response essay based on evidence from the original source, you should avoid accusations of plagiarism.

How to write a reaction paper

How do I write a reaction paper?

How should you start a reaction paper? These questions have been discussed in depth in this section.

Now that we know what a reaction paper is, the characteristics of reaction paper, and what makes a good response essay, let us now review the process of writing a good reaction paper using the step-by-step guide outlined below:

  1. Read the text thoroughly.
  2. Write down your initial thoughts.
  3. Collect sufficient evidence and write your response essay.
  4. Conclude your essay.
  5. Proofread and edit your work.

Let us now discuss each step above in details:

Step 1: Read the text thoroughly.

The first thing you need to do when you have been asked to write a reaction essay paper is to read the text you are responding to in order to get a better understanding of the author’s argument. Never start writing a response essay without going through and understanding the text or literary work in question. By reading thoroughly, you will be able to write a good paper that is in line with the criteria of the assignment.

Step 2: Write down your initial thoughts.

After going through and understanding the text in question, you should attempt to summarise what you have read and written down your initial thoughts on the text before moving on to gather evidence for your response essay. This initial summary is essential as it encourages you to formulate a thesis or approach that guides your arguments throughout the writing process.

Step 3: Collect sufficient evidence and write your response essay.

Assemble all possible evidence that confirms or challenges these initial thoughts about the author’s argument and then present them coherently in order of importance.

Once you have summarised what has been written so far and decided how you want to respond, it’s time to use quotes from the text or literature work such as poems or books used in academic papers to support your argument. A good rule of thumb is to limit the use of direct quotes from texts to 30% of your total response paper word count. After using sufficient evidence and quoting passages from the text, you should then construct a coherent and well-supported essay that covers all aspects outlined in the assignment criteria or instructions provided by your tutor or lecturer. You may need assistance with creating a thesis statement for an assigned reaction essay that enables you to express your thoughts on what you have read clearly.

Step 4: Conclude your essay.

Once you have completed writing all necessary content for the paper, it’s time to summarise everything that has been written so far into a single document that will be used as reference for future readings. This summary ensures that you have covered all aspects that are necessary to complete the assignment. It’s important for this document or summary not to exceed more than 1,000 words without including any references since it serves as a way of checking whether you have used all information already mentioned in your essay before moving on to proofreading and editing your work.

Step 5: Proofread and edit your work.

Once you are satisfied with what has been written, it is time for you to read through the essay again but this time looking out for errors such as grammar mistakes, spelling errors, sentence structure issues, etc. If there are still some areas of confusion left after going through the paper once more using a fresh set of eyes then feel free to ask someone else to look at it too. There may be times when your initial reaction paper assignment can be completed in a single draft, but most of the time it is desirable to go through and edit your paper multiple times before submitting it for grading or assessment.

As you can see the process of writing a reaction essay is simple and straightforward. We will now review some reaction paper examples below to reinforce the above steps. Should you have any question, click here to ask a question.

Reaction paper examples

Here are some samples of great reaction papers written for you. Follow the samples to see how various students have been able to write great papers.

reaction paper example

Other examples of reaction papers can be found on the botton of this page.

Further reaction paper writing tips

Here are a few tips to guide you when you are writing your reaction paper:

  • Don’t waste too much time on one topic — write about what you’re passionate and knowledgeable about and move on! People notice if you keep writing about the same thing.
  • Use clear language — find synonyms and rephrase sentences so they don’t sound awkward.
  • Always proofread your work. It will take less than five minutes to check for spelling problems, grammatical errors, sentence fragments, punctuation mistakes, run-on sentences, etc.
  • Give yourself enough time to fully complete task—don’t rush yourself!


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