What to do in a Response Paragraph
Students often don't know how to begin in a
response paragraph. The temptation is to simply summarize a point in
the reading and ask if you have it right. You can do more than this.
Here is a guide to the kinds of ways you can add meat to your
response paragraph without simply repeating yourself.
Allan Bloom has posited a "taxonomy of educational
objectives" that helps us discriminate different ways of analyzing a
topic. Underneath each of these ways, I give an explanation of it and
an example. Each single example sentence would never stand by
itself, but needs to be followed up by an "unpacking" that describes
what you mean. Analysis towards the bottom of this list is more
impressive than stuff towards the top.
- Knowledge: Recognition of a concept and
ability to define it. "Repression is a pushing into the
unconscious of a disturbing feeling." This definition suggests
knowledge that the concept "repression" can be described in a
particular way. Giving more than one definition does not add to
knowledge, unless comparisons are made between them. Giving a
simple example can be a form of definition too. Simple examples
suggest knowledge, and some comprehension, complex ones suggest
- Comprehension: Clear evidence that the
nuance of knowledge is recognized. The ability to use a concept in
a sentence toward some end is also evidence of comprehension. "In
order to get repression, some mental energy has to be used to push
against other mental energy." Comprehension is more than awareness
of a simple definition, it also involves the ability to understand
the meaning of a concept and use it appropriately.
- Application: The use of a concept to
understand a complex real-world problem. A simple example is not
an application. Application requires the use of the concept in a
careful and thoughtful manner, in a manner that takes into account
the complexity of both the concept and the situation. "Repression
may be most at home in explaining conversion disorders, but only
slight variations are needed to explain other disorders also."
- Analysis: This involves the ability to
understand the internal structure of a concept and to manipulate
that structure to show how the concept is put together. "The
psychodynamic model speaks of repression, resistance, catharsis,
and other mental forces, but they are all different manifestations
of a single energy, eros." Just showing the connections or
structure is the beginning, but manipulating the structure to show
its flexibility or fragility is deeper analysis.
- Synthesis: Taking two or more concepts
and showing their similarities, differences, contrasts,
contradictions, or combinations. "Thought Skinner and Freud might
each turn over in their graves, with only a little work we can see
the similarities between the ideas of repression and punishment."
Again, showing the contrast is just the beginning; you can also
show why it matters, or how it can be resolved, or why it is
interesting (see Analysis)
- Evaluation: Is this concept up to the
task its designers' set for it? Where does it fall short? What
does it leave out? What implications does it have for other
concepts or issues? If it is useful for one purpose, might it be
useful for other, similar purposes? "Freud wants to explain all
human behavior with reference to only internal psychodynamics. But
even Freud needs to rely on the social situations in the family to
drive these internal dynamics."