How to Write a Reaction Paper

How to Write a Reaction Paper - offers sample techniques on how to essay your opinions about a creative act or production. Unlike a formal critique where you need to form theories about your findings, this paper assignment is more informal. However, your professor expects a highly individual set of insights which is what will make your paper unique. The reaction you produce will show how observant you are. 

Types of Reaction/Assessment

A. General Reaction

1.   I like the play/book/film/presentation

2.   I was completely engrossed in this play/film/book/presentation

3.   I fell asleep in the second act/part of this play/book/film/presentation

4.   I would like to walk out after the second act, but suddenly....

After writing a general reaction as listed above, explain the reasons for your response. Each paragraph may talk about one specific aspect, and all paragraphs must contribute to the general “thesis”. For example, under general reaction number 1 above, you may create sub-paragraphs as follows:

1.   The story – why do you like the story? Is it a new spin on an old theme? Do you agree that the way it progressed is the only way it could progress given its components? (This is called inevitability). Does the story's personal theme illustrate a universal truth? How well has the writer chosen the details that have contributed to an expert handling of character development? 

2.  The technique or style – how will you compare this with other creations in the same genre? Have all the supporting elements been carefully chosen and executed. How do they complement each other?

        a.       Describe technique or style using concrete details. For example: with a stage play, when you write about  blocking, props, transition, lights, costumes, music etc., avoid abstract sentences such as “The music is nice” or “The props are ok” or “The costumes are cute”. These are cliche and careless comments that don't say anything.

        b.      How about, “The background music of [state the artist’s name] expertly adds to the eerie and frightening mood of the film, making me cringe and cry out in horror.” Reactions like this may motivate your audience/reader to watch/read the presentation, or prevent them from seeing/reading it. 

3.  Your personal insight – More than summarizing and enumerating the techniques that make up the style of presentation, illustrate your new knowledge, relating it to a personal experience.

A spiritual or psychological insight, a new discovery about a particular field, a practical application may form the body of your personal insight. Example: “I realized after watching this film, that time indeed is a gift; that we cannot simply stand and wait for things to happen, that we should be pro-active and learn how we can be excellent stewards of our gifts, because this is the best way to seize the day.

B. Focused Reaction

When you write a reaction focusing on a specific element, support it with an objective analysis of that element's contribution to the creation.

1. For example, comment on how the story was written, the gem and idea behind the style of writing.

     “I like it that, in spite of the modern background used, the adaptation has not strayed away from the universal theme espoused in the original play by Shakespeare.

2. Or interview the creator to inform you on some techniques of adaptation. You may also compare and contrast the original versus the adaptation].

     "I like it that the play included scenes that were not in the film. I believe these scenes are important because...."

3. Or critique the story arc or flow.

      "I admire the improvisation on the set considering the limitations of stage and knowing how big budgeted this was when it was filmed."

4. Or write about the pluses of physical production - artistry of design, techniques, etc.

     "I find the character development based on the story simply engaging. Let me talk about (name the character)."

5. Or describe the details that enhanced a character’s development and explore each.

     "I find the set design totally distracting and adding to the slow pace of this play."

6. Or compare or contrast the general look and feel of the present production with a past production by the same group of presenters.

In general, a focused reaction is like a mini-critique. Always be honest but avoid making nasty comments. 

Follow the Rules of Composition

Writing a Reaction Paper may be intimidating at first. A common question students ask is "How short or how long it should be." A reaction paper can be a mere five-hundred word to a one-thousand word essay (one to two  pages, double spaced), or it can stretch on to five pages, which is more than two thousand words. But contrary to what students think, a shorter paper is more challenging to write. Aim, however, not only for a short and readable length, but more so for coherent paragraphs and a tight structure.

Divide your paper into well-written paragraphs with logical sentence sequence. If it is a long paper, use sub-titles. Follow the rule of ONE – One sentence, one idea;  One paragraph, one main idea; One essay, one thesis.

In writing your draft, wear the creative-writer's hat. Then leave it for a while and give it time so you can detach from it. Then before submission, wear the editor's hat. Check and double-check spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Layout details matter as well, so proof your paper for correct spacing, hyphenation and indentation.

Submit a Clean Presentation

The most telling aspect of your paper is its appearance.  

·         Did you follow instructions to write it, for instance, “In Times-roman fount, double spaced, one-inch margin on all sides, with a page number, your name and section on the heading?

·         Did you give it an appropriate title? The title must capture your main idea or hook your reader to read further for one good time of discovery.

·         Did you submit on deadline?

A haphazardly prepared assignment will always get a low grade, even if the content has merits. 

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1. Before you write

First, prepare an outline. A sentence outline is most helpful in giving you ideas in concrete forms, and all you need is to put transitions. A topic outline is as good as a form of brainstorming.

Second, read related literature and cite your references whether you quoted from them or not. Related literature should enhance your opinion, or give it more meat. The references will also tell your professor that your opinions may also have objective basis.

When you quote, remember the "fair use" rule. This means not copying too much. In a book, copying a chapter is plagiarism. Copying a paragraph from a very short essay also constitute plagiarism. Plagiarism isn't merely copying the whole. Even copying a portion, if it is not a "fair amount" will constitute plagiarism. Do put all those quote marks when you quote. Every short and long quote should be accompanied by correct reference details, such as the author and the title of the work where it came from, the copyright year and publisher, and of course, the page where you found it.

Third, plan how you will begin your piece. As with all types of writing, beginning sentences and introductory paragraphs should not only catch the attention of the readers, but they should also contain your reflect your general intention.

2. Forming Opinions

In writing the reaction paper, your personal responses and impressions are done using the “I” point of view. "Inform” your opinions so they will have value for other users. In other words, before talking about “blocking”, for example, and “transitions of scenes” in a play, at least know something about these elements. If you are commenting on cinematography, at least have some basic knowledge about mise-en-scene and photography.

Most of your additional insights will come from extra references, or from the artists themselves. If you used extra references, acknowledge them all, and if you interviewed the artist, keep an open mind. Other artists may have a different style of doing the same thing. The rule is to remain inquisitive and curious, but listen well and sift your information, lest you give sweeping generalizations.

Avoid language that offend sensibilities. You may include sentences that begin with:

·         In my opinion (highly subjective)

·         I have a feeling that (guessing, could be an informed guess)

·         It seems as if the author would like to show (forming inference based on precedents)

·         Perhaps this should be (hypothesizing, via sheer observation)

·         Under the circumstances I believe (generalizing from opinions formed)

3. Concluding your piece

As with the writing of beginnings, writing a conclusion is always a challenge. After discussing all your points, you may simply want to summarize your report. Then give a recommendation

      "In this paper, I have discussed the following.... I hope that my reactions will entice more people to watch/read/ this film/book."

Or wrap up with a “general feeling” about this piece of work.

     “I believe that this film is worth my time and study. Go watch it and enjoy....

Or if you did not like it, you may give your warning, for instance,

      “I have given you my observations on the various weaknesses of this piece. It’s now all up to you to take them or leave them.

Writing a reaction paper offers an excellent opportunity to assign some meaning to what you see and hear around you. Write a reaction paper and let your new-found insight resonate.