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Focused Response Essay

Synthesis/Response Essay (Harper)

Part one


For this essay you will be collecting sources on a media topic of your choice, analyzing and evaluating these references for topics/issues/themes they have in common, and writing an essay on how each one of the authors of the sources you have chosen approaches this common topic. This is what is meant by "synthesizing." Sound simple? It is! Synthesis, like summary, is primarily objective--no opinion. You are reflecting, as accurately as you can, how each author approaches the common topic you've chosen to focus on. Here's an example:

Let's say you've chosen three articles: one by Rush Limbaugh, the second by Gloria Steinem, and the third Katie Roiphe. The common point you've decided you want to focus on is feminism. All three of these authors come from a completely different angle on feminism and have their own opinions about what this multifaceted term means today. You would want to introduce the topic you'll be addressing and explain that you'll be looking at how three authors view this topic. Obviously, you would go on to do this, and at the end of your synthesis, you would respond--hence, Part Two of the essay.

Part two


Now you get to respond to the information (ideas, topic, authors, etc.) that you have synthesized. Once again, you can take many approaches in the response portion of this essay. Most important, you are taking a position in relation to the sources you have collected. You may respond to one author's argument or all of them; you may respond to the topic in general, using personal experience and/or outside sources which present yet another argument; you may agree/disagree with the logic and premises one or more of the authors used in defending their conclusions...the list goes on. The important thing to remember is that your response must be reasoned, developed (backed-up), logical, coherent, clear in terms of what it is exactly that you're responding to, and focused (no rambling, padding, beating around the bush, touching on an idea but not developing it, trying to cover everything in a short space, etc.).



To synthesize the claims of 3-5 authors/articles based on a common topic, showing how each of the authors relate to the common topic as well as to each other's argument or viewpoint. You will also be responding, using any one of the approaches we have discussed in class.


Your choice. The audience you choose will impact, primarily, only your response because the synthesis portion of the essay is largely objective.


You will research and locate five articles or book chapters on a "Media and 'American' Culture" topic of your choice. At least three of these texts must be arguments, and these three arguments will be the articles you will synthesize and respond to. (You may collect five arguments and use all of them in your paper, but be careful: synthesizing this many articles can get complicated). You should consult at least three different indexes or databases in your search for sources. Make sure to photocopy all your sources!

Key Features:

See handout titled, "Key Features/Grading Guide for Synthesis and Response."



Around 4-6 pages, but this is not set in stone.

Final Draft Format:



--proper MLA documentation (we will discuss this in class)

--name in one of the upper corners of first page

Important Dates:

--Electronic Information Lab Orientation: To be announced

--Sources collected by Thurs., 2-16

--Rough Draft and Workshop on Thurs., 2-23

(Annotated bibliography of your five sources also due on this date).

--Synthesis/Response (or Explanatory) Essay due: Tues., 2-28. You may turn in an Intervention Draft on this date, although it is not mandatory.

--In class writing/debate assignments to be handed in w/ Portfolio: Thurs., 3-2

--Portfolio #1 due: Tues., 3-7

--All summaries should be typed and "cleaned up" for submission.

--Revised summary/response essay

--Revised synthesis/response (or explanatory) essay

--All rough drafts, workshop sheets, homework assignments, freewriting, pre-reading log assignments, annotated articles, postscripts, copies of sources, etc.

LEO: Literacy Education Online

Writing a Reaction or Response Essay

Reaction or response papers are usually requested by teachers so that you'll consider carefully what you think or feel about something you've read. The following guidelines are intended to be used for reacting to a reading although they could easily be used for reactions to films too. Read whatever you've been asked to respond to, and while reading, think about the following questions.

  • How do you feel about what you are reading?
  • What do you agree or disagree with?
  • Can you identify with the situation?
  • What would be the best way to evaluate the story?

Keeping your responses to these questions in mind, follow the following prewriting steps.

Prewriting for Your Reaction Paper

The following statements could be used in a reaction/response paper. Complete as many statements as possible, from the list below, about what you just read.

My Reaction to What I Just Read Is That . . .

I think that

I see that

I feel that

It seems that

In my opinion,


A good quote is

In addition,

For example,





In conclusion,

What you've done in completing these statements is written a very rough reaction/response paper. Now it needs to be organized. Move ahead to the next section.

Organizing Your Reaction Paper

A reaction/response paper has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
  • The introduction should contain all the basic information in one or two paragraphs.

    Sentence 1:This sentence should give the title, author, and publication you read.

    Sentence 2, 3, and sometimes 4:

    These sentences give a brief summary of what you read (nutshell)
    Sentence 5:This sentence is your thesis statement. You agree, disagree, identify, or evaluate.

  • Your introduction should include a concise, one sentence, focused thesis. This is the focused statement of your reaction/response. More information on thesis statements is available.
  • The body should contain paragraphs that provide support for your thesis. Each paragraph should contain one idea. Topic sentences should support the thesis, and the final sentence of each paragraph should lead into the next paragraph.

    Topic Sentence
    detail -- example --quotation --detail -- example -- quotation -- detail -- example -- quotation -- detail -- example --quotation
    Summary Sentence

    You can structure your paragraphs in two ways:


    in contrast to

  • The conclusion can be a restatement of what you said in your paper. It also be a comment which focuses your overall reaction. Finally, it can be a prediction of the effects of what you're reacting to. Note: your conclusion should include no new information.

    More information on strategies for writing conclusions is available.


In summary, this handout has covered prewriting and organizing strategies for reaction/response papers.
  • Prewriting
    • Read the article and jot down ideas.
    • How do you feel about what was said?
    • Do you agree or disagree with the author?
    • Have you had any applicable experience?
    • Have you read or heard anything that applies to this what the writer said in the article or book?
    • Does the evidence in the article support the statements the writer made?
  • Organizing
    • Write the thesis statement first.
    • Decide on the key points that will focus your ideas. These will be your topic sentences.
    • Develop your ideas by adding examples, quotations, and details to your paragraphs.
    • Make sure the last sentence of each paragraph leads into the next paragraph.
    • Check your thesis and make sure the topic sentence of each paragraph supports it.

Return to the Write Place Catalogue

For questions and suggestions, please e-mail us at leolink@stcloudstate.edu.

© 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 The Write Place

This handout was written by Kathleen Cahill and revised for LEO by Judith Kilborn, the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.

URL: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/reaction.html

Updated: 6 April 1999

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