Right to Death and Power Over Life

Assignment-Response Papers

Response Papers

Response papers are mini-essays. They allow you to approach a theoretical reading from your own perspective. You might connect the reading to something memorable (e.g., an experience you’ve had, book you’ve read, etc.). Be curious and make logical leaps. You don’t have to be an expert and you can express uncertainty.

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Because this is a compact format you must get right to the point and use a single, consistent “thread” of argument to carry your reader through.

You must also put the text “under the microscope” by directly quoting and analyzing small pieces of textual evidence (a word, phrase, or even punctuation) to show how the text works to make meaning. In other words, use your close reading skills. Use an in-depth analysis of snippets of quotations from the primary text(s) to propel your own argument. Finally, as a writer, you should be elegant, concise and precise, even (or especially) when the theorist you’re reading is not.


  • Approximately 600 words (equivalent to a single-spaced page)

Additional requirements for responses addressing Sample Final Papers

Some Response Papers will be considering sample Final Papers. In those Response Papers you should also

  1. Identify the paper’s thesis statement, explicit uses of the theory/theorist, and implicit uses of the theory/theorist.
  2. Explain how one of these explicit or implicit uses of theory supports a particular literary-critical claim and then how that claim supports the thesis as a whole.

E.g., “In this passage from the fourth body paragraph, the student summarizes, and then paraphrases, Saussure’s concept of [ABC] to establish [XYZ]. The student then uses this concept to support her thesis that ‘[123]’ by connecting …”)

The broad questions that concern me are:

  • What problem or connection have you analyzed?
  • Why did you analyze it?
  • What does your analysis reveal that most readers couldn’t see before?
  • What specific points in the text(s) lead you to these conclusions?

These questions may be simple, but they are not easy to address in writing. My standards are high, and they should challenge you to produce interesting and important work. You should provide strong answers to all of these questions in a sensibly structured essay that demonstrates a command of the mechanics of analytical prose. Good structure and mechanics encourage your readers to see those answers and to trust in you as a thoughtful and conscientious writer.

The following chart provides a rough profile of an “A” paper, a “B” paper, and so on. I dislike assigning grades because they symbolize a final evaluation of a paper rather than presenting the paper as a means to facilitate discussion and understanding. However, I recognize the importance of grades for your own sense of your academic progress, and I do not give grades lightly. Unless I have made a mathematical error, grades are non-negotiable. I will, however, always be happy to offer a detailed rationale for your grade.

What does a paper of each grade look like?





A The paper knows what it wants to say and why it wants to say it. It goes beyond pointing out comparisons to using them to change the reader’s vision. Every paragraph supports the main argument in a coherent way, and clear transitions point out why each new paragraph follows the previous one. Concrete examples from texts support general points about how those texts work. The paper provides the source and significance of each piece of evidence. The paper uses correct spelling and punctuation. In short, it generally exhibits a good command of academic prose.
B A) The paper has a solid, consistent focus, but it doesn’t quite know why it does what it does. OR

B) The paper includes some imaginative ideas that hint at a convincing and important argument, but they are not yet working consistently as an argument.

The paper as a whole works in a logical way, but the paragraphs within it do not always follow a consistent logic. Some paragraphs do not offer a reason why they appear where they do. The paper offers a mix of solid evidence and unsupported generalizations. It uses most evidence well, but the paper needs some more or needs to clarify the significance of some of what is already there. The paper contains occasional but limited errors in syntax, agreement, pronoun reference, and/or punctuation.
C The paper replaces an argument with a topic, giving a series of related observations without suggesting a logic for their presentation or a reason for presenting them. The observations of the paper are listed rather than organized. Often, this is a symptom of a problem in argument, as the framing of the paper has not provided a path for evidence to follow. The paper offers very little concrete evidence, instead relying on plot summary or generalities to talk about a text. If concrete evidence is present, its origin or significance is not clear. The paper contains frequent errors in syntax, agreement, pronoun reference, and/or punctuation.
D The paper lacks even a consistent topic, providing a series of largely unrelated observations. The observations are listed rather than organized, and some of them do not appear to belong in the paper at all. The paper offers no concrete evidence from the texts or misuses a little evidence. It does still try to talk about texts, though. The paper contains consistent and basic errors in syntax, agreement, reference, spelling, and/or punctuation.
F The paper shows little sign of even attempting an analysis of text. The paper loses the reader. Both paper and paragraphs lack coherence. The paper uses plagiarized or inapplicable evidence. The paper contains constant and glaring mechanical errors.



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