How to write a reader response paper
Prof. Margaret O’Mara
What a reader response paper is:
A critical essay that tells the reader what a historical monograph (book) means to you. It reflects a close reading of the work, contains specific examples drawn from the work (documented parenthetically with page numbers), and provides your well-considered opinion of the work’s strengths and/or shortcomings. The essay demonstrates that you have read the book, internalized and contextualized its arguments, and can articulate and substantiate your reactions to it.
What a reader response paper is not:
A descriptive summary of the book or of the historical events it describes. Assume your reader has read the book and has a familiarity with the era under consideration. A research paper. You may consult additional sources (other studies of the same subject; other critiques of the book) if you like, but you are not required to do so. Use parenthetical documentation rather than footnotes.
A classic “thesis” paper, in which you state a thesis argument at the front end and use the book to support this thesis, reiterating the argument in the conclusion. The essay must have an organizing argument (see below) but it should be more analytic than descriptive. Its intent goes beyond proving a certain point of fact.
An opportunity for general opinionating (“I thought it was really good,” or “I thought it was terrible”) nor an opportunity to make statements of opinion that are not supported by evidence drawn from the text.
A test of whether you had the “right” interpretation of the book. This is a venue for you to tell us what the book means to you. It should display thoughtful evaluation of the text and express of how it may have contributed (or not contributed) to your understanding of a particular period, and why.
Ask yourself the following questions as you prepare to write a reader response paper. You don’t need to include the answers to...
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