A reaction paper is typically a 2-5 page document in which the writer responds to one or more texts. Reaction papers are often used as tools in a class-setting to encourage students to think critically about texts, and how those texts are in conversation with each other, or with a wider field of discourse. Reaction papers can also be used to generate ideas for a research paper. Skills used in a reaction paper include: summary, analysis, and synthesis. A reaction paper may or may not feature a conclusion. Unlike in some other forms of academic writing, it is OK to use the personal “I” in a reaction paper.
Reaction papers usually start with a brief summary of the text(s) that will be discussed in the paper. It is necessary to include the title and author(s) for each text. A summary in a reaction paper should capture the thesis statement or main argument/idea from the text within a few sentences. However, because the main purpose of the reaction paper is to analyze and synthesize the discussed texts, it is important that the summary section is not too long; one paragraph is usually sufficient. Also, make sure to keep the summary strictly factual by avoiding opinion words such as “good”, “bad”, “convincing”, “flawed”, etc.
The Acta Psychologica, February 2010 article “When a Picasso is a “Picasso”: The entry point in the identification of visual art” describes a study conducted by researchers to investigate whether or not art is distinguished from “real world objects” in human cognition and memory. The study consisted of three experiments which collectively indicate that “the artist’s name has a special status in the memorial representation of visual art”.
The analysis section is where the writer explores their reaction to the paper. Sometimes professors will guide students in their reactions by giving them a set of questions to address, but this is not always the case. A useful way to begin thinking about the analysis is to use the “They say / I say” format: first, describe or quote an idea from the paper (“They say”), then state your reaction (“I say”). Your reaction may be in the form of agreement, disagreement, qualified agreement/disagreement (“I agree with X but disagree with Y”), as well as questions, criticisms, and emotional responses (how the text made you feel). It is important to provide an explanation for each of your reactions.
Ullyat argues that reading Mary Oliver’s poetry through a Budhhist lens shows the poet’s preoccupation with the concept of “mindfulness.” While I was not familiar with the idea of “mindfulness,” I found Ullyat’s arguments convincing. I especially noted her discussion of “Nowness - which constitutes being fully present in the here-and-now.” This is a theme in Oliver’s poetry that I had also noted in my reading of the collection Why I Wake at Dawn.
The synthesis section is where the writer discusses how the text(s) relate to each other and/or to their larger discursive field. Comparing and contrasting the texts can be a useful way to begin thinking about how the texts relate to each other. A writer can also bring in outside information, such as from class lectures or previous readings. For example, the writer may note if the text adds additional information to an idea previously presented in class, explains an idea in a different way, or contradicts an idea.
While Tannen’s book You Just Don’t Understand argues that men and women have inherently different communication patterns, James and Drakich’s review of 56 studies on gender and communication found that 34 studies claimed men talk more than women, and 20 studies either found no difference or no conclusive results. This suggests that the divide between men and women’s communication styles may not be as distinct as Tannen claims.
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