- Begin with a punchy start. Don't talk about "the chapter" but an idea, argument, or quote. Be careful of trite or hyperbolic statements "Since the dawn of time..." or "In today's day and age..."
- Avoid phrases like "then the author mentioned this" and "I found it interesting," which saps vigor from your writing. Instead, engage directly: "Rheingold believes that ..., but I disagree."
- Use paragraphs to structure coherent thoughts.
- Mention specific ideas, details, and examples from the text and earlier classes.
- Offer something novel that you can offer towards class participation.
- Read your peers' responses (if possible) and figure out why the best are the best.
- Bring your response to class as you will be expected to be able to speak to it.
What makes a good 250-350 word response? If you have a specific prompt (e.g., "how do the five types of power relate to Steve Jobs' leadership?") respond to that. Otherwise, as a default, follow the model of summarize and engage.
In the first paragraph you should briefly identify the authors' main arguments, concepts, and cases/examples; in the second paragraph actively engage the texts. If there's multiple, focus on the most substantive and trying to connect it with one or more of the others.
Active reading means trying to identify themes of the course and connections with other texts we have covered; it means presenting your own examples and insights so as to augment or refute the author's position. Or, it means posing a really good question. You might even focus upon a particular quotation from the text. Your second paragraph should be novel and serve as your contribution to class discussion such that you should never have to say, "they already said what I said."
What makes a bad response? A cursory restatement of the points and little engagement. Don't say it is very "interesting" (or "insightful" or "fascinating"); show me how it is so or start with a sharp quote, surprising fact, controversial statement, or something funny. Opt to make a direct argument rather than using lots of "I found" and "I believe" statements. Cite pages, that way you can easily use your writing in subsequent writing assignments. However, avoid writing "on page __" in your prose, that is awkward, use a citation instead. If you have difficulties, review some of your colleagues' responses. Which responses do you think are good and why?
I've drafted two responses to Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma that I hope illustrate some "do's and don'ts." Note, the second response isn't perfect and readily admits to confusion, but that confusion results from a close reading.
- summary: simple restatement
- writing: a slow start and lots of "very this and very that"; big paragraph
- concepts/theory: little focus on a salient concept or theory
- support: lots of generalities
- summary: synthesizes across the article
- writing: punchy start and consistently polished; coherent paragraphs
- concepts/theory: raises specific issues and concepts
- support: well supported with specific details and textual references, makes use of earlier class concepts/discussions