How to Write a Reaction Paper

Student working in library
... Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

Reaction papers are intended to provide students with the opportunity to think about and respond to a text in an organized and meaningful way. The basic idea is to juxtapose the ideas and positions expressed in the text against your own. This doesn't mean that a reaction paper should focus exclusively on those points with which you disagree. Agreeing with the text is also a valid approach. Reaction paper assignments will vary from teacher to teacher, but there are some generally applicable steps to approaching this type of essay.

Closely read the text you'll be using for your reaction paper. Take notes on the author's positions on the topic and any noticeable bias he seems to have. Think about the text as you read and ask yourself whether you agree with the author's position, whether the author makes a sound case for his position, whether he assumes a certain level of knowledge in the reader, if he leaves any important information out or uses suspect evidence, and what the implications of the writer's thoughts and beliefs on the topic are. Take general notes on these and similar matters as you read, marking any passages that particularly stand out to you.

Choose five to 10 pieces of evidence from the text that particularly stand out to you. Reaction papers are usually short, so limit yourself to the strongest evidence.

Write a brief, accurate summary of the text in the first paragraph of your reaction paper. Include all of the basic information regarding the text. The text's title, author and date of publication should be included. The author's position on the subject should also be briefly described. For example, if you're reacting to a paper or book in support of environmentalism, include a sentence or two describing that author's specific position. Your personal reaction to the text's contents should be left for subsequent paragraphs.

Begin evaluating the text in the second paragraph. The goal from here on is to demonstrate that you have understood the text in question and to establish your position using specific examples. Devote each paragraph to a specific piece of evidence or a few pieces of closely related evidence. State the author's position, then state your own. You can agree or disagree. Refer to the notes you took while reading.

Conclude the reaction paper by summarizing your position on the text. If this paper is being written for a course with numerous readings, briefly compare and contrast the text in question with related texts from the course readings.

Edit your reaction paper for clarity and accuracy. Make sure that each paragraph relates logically to the preceding paragraph. If possible, put the paper aside for a day or two before doing so. You're more likely to notice mistakes and omissions if you take a break before editing.

Jason Savage has been a freelance writer since 2005. He has authored technical and procedural documents for a variety of clients, while his journalism and fiction have appeared in "Monday Magazine," "The Pedestal" and other publications. Savage holds B.A. in English and a B.F.A. in music.