ENGLISH 98:  COLLEGE COMPOSITION

Instructor:  Karl Sherlock

 

Download this handout (in MS Word) HERE.

 

 

 

RESPONSE PARAGRAPHS

 

 

PURPOSE:  Response writing requires, not only an assertion of one's own ideas with support and explanation, but an ongoing comparison between one's own ideas and the ideas of the passage or essay to which one is responding.  While comparison-contrast structure is not always used to develop such a response, it is implied by the way that the student's ideas are juxtaposed with the writer's ideas.  However, one more important element is added to the mix:  agreement and disagreement. 

 

Respondents who agree with the writer find ways to extend their agreement with a claim of value, rather than merely corroborate the writer's opinion with their own claim of fact.  For example, one would not write,

"I believe Bill Wine is correct that television is the main culprit for why moviegoers act rudely today."

Why?  Because it is a simple statement of fact that the student believes Bill Wine's argument.  To extend Wine's argument with an original claim of value, the student should write instead,

"Bill Wine's is correct in blaming television as the main culprit for people's rudeness at the movies because, as fewer and fewer families watch television together, fewer people learn how to watch such entertainment in the company of others, and this leads to rude behavior in public."

Extending the claim is the most important part of the response.

 

Respondents who disagree with the writer have as much responsibility to extend the writer's claim (i.e., the writer's thesis) with their own by suggesting their main reason for disagreement.  The simplest method to achieve this is to place a "because" statement at the end of your topic point:

"Bill Wine's assumption that television viewing habits create poor manners at the movie theater is only partially correct because a more dominant influence on people's behavior is the inadequate parenting that keeps children from learning proper social skills and manners in public places."

Note here that disagreement can take the form of partial agreement as well.  One need not be diametrically opposed to the writer to take a contradictory stance.  In fact, arguments of greater subtlety and complexity often develop from these partial agreements.  Perhaps the best way to think about such a response is that it invokes, both, a degree of contrast and a degree of comparison to achieve its goals.

 

STRUCTURE:  Seasoned writers whose ease and familiarity with composing allow them to spend more time on style than on organization will shape and bend paragraph structure to their rhetorical will.  Beginning writers, however, cannot afford such a luxury.  Rather, they should try to use a reasonable process to achieve a practical structure so that they communicate their ideas clearly, persuasively and compellingly. The following pattern of development should be practiced and applied without fail in every expository paragraph you write this term.

 

A single analytical response paragraph is developed in SIX STAGES:

 

TOPIC ASSERTION

Introduce a claim of fact, value or policy as the first sentence(s) of the paragraph.  Make sure the claim, both, limits the topic and advances an attitude or opinion about the author's argument.

 

e.g.

Mary Smith, in her paragraph, "Inspiration versus Motivation," believes that motivation is a matter faith that events in our life happen for a reason, and I agree.  Because we cannot always predict the end result of our motivated behavior, we show faith in the people and events that move us to act.

 

EXPLANATION

Explain the paragraph's topic assertion by defining potentially unfamiliar terms and confusing abstractions, or by rationalizing the use of a certain criteria for the discussion to follow.  These terms and criteria should come from, both, the author's arguments and your own.

 

e.g.

According to Mary Smith, motivation is an impulsive response or a "knee-jerk" reaction to life because, when we are motivated we act without thinking.  Without rationalizing our actions, we act on faith.  I, too, feel that not rationalizing our reactions is important to being motivated, but not predicting the result of those actions is also important.  We show faith in ourselves to be "doing the right thing."

 

SUPPORT

Provide an appropriate range of examples, evidence, opinions, data, illustrations or statistics, and describe these with adequate detail.  When demanded, included paraphrase and verbatim quotations.  Use a rhetorical pattern of development to organize the presentation of this support (i.e., comparison-contrast; process; etc.)

 

e.g. [EXEMPLIFICATION]

For example, in Smith's paragraph, she discusses how the people who helped her and her family after their house burned down in a fire motivated her to become involved in the community, to give back that help.  She explained that it "felt right to help others as I was helped."  This gut instinct response shows faith in what was right, not what would result if she began helping others.  If I were in Smith's position, I would not think about whether people appreciated my help or even remembered it was I who helped them.  I would place faith in the idea that to act is better than not to act, and I would let life turn out as it may.

 

INTERPRETATION

This is perhaps the most important stage of the analytical paragraph, as it explains how and why the evidence lends credence to the claim made in the topic assertion.  Explain to your readers how the details of your support can be interpreted so that they bear out the meaning of the topic assertion, or so that they "prove" or otherwise illustrate convincingly the ideas you wish to communicate.

 

e.g.

Both of our experiences and examples show that faith not about looking into the future.  Rather, it is about living in the moment and enjoying what one knows to be right.  Without living in the moment, one would expect outcomes and one could not trust one's motives to act.

 

EXTRAPOLATION

Remember, any paragraph you include in your essay's body should work to expand, clarify or otherwise support the essay's thesis statement.  In the previous stage of development, interpretation applied the support to the paragraph's topic point.  In this stage, you should apply the interpretation and the topic point to the thesis of your essay, which means a response to the author's arguments.  This is sometimes a subtle distinction, and writer's will often combine extrapolation with interpretation.

 

Trusting our motives is the most important aspect of motivation.  Smith's arguments further demonstrate hat trust in the correctness of our action is the same faith that fuels our intentions and makes us want to doing something good.  Not only do we place that faith in the people around us, we place it in ourselves.

 

CONCLUSION

Good analytical paragraphs are "rounded off" with a sentence or two that confidently re-assert the topic point as a logical conclusion to the paragraph's argument.  However, concluding sentences in analytical paragraphs also allow writers to insert transitional statements that will link to the next paragraph in the essay's body.

 

e.g.

Motivation, then, is a matter of faith.  I agree with Mary Smith that, without faith, we would not ever feel motivated. I further believe that motivations makes us place faith in the moment, rather than in the future.

 

You should not be concerned about the overall length of these paragraphs.  Even though you may have become accustomed to writing paragraphs of approximately 250 words, that tendency--like the five-paragraph essay development--should become obsolete in time.  With the greater sophistication of your topic points should come greater complexity and sophistication in your paragraph development. 

 

 

(c) 2006 Karl J. Sherlock

For instructional use only; may not be reprinted or reproduced without the permission of the author