guidelines for writing a short response
February 5, 2009
There has been a lot of variety in the quality of
responses, so in the interest of your learning from the good work of
peers, I thought that I would put together some thoughts on the anatomy
In this class, we are looking for you to
about different aspects of “information.” Ideally your responses will
demonstrate some sort of comprehension of these arguments.
For the purposes of this class, doing these
responses should help you prepare for the exams both by practicing
short answer questions, and by learning the material that will be
covered. In life, learning to write
is a crucial skill for almost any profession, but one that most people
For many people, writing short responses is more
than long ones. This is true for me and
most of my colleagues. With that in
mind, here are some guidelines for the responses based on what we have
far. These are meant to be helpful
suggestions and not rules.
- Briefly respond to the
question. Start by stating your response to the question in a
sentence avoiding “I think…” and “I believe” statements.
Many of the questions have a “pick a side” format, in which
case start by picking a side. Assume that
the readers (the instructors) have done the readings and read the
question. There is no need to summarize
the readings or the question. Use the
space to offer evidence to support the side that you have taken.
- Offer evidence to support
- The evidence you use to
support your side comes from the readings. It
is better to misuse a piece of evidence from the text or misunderstand
a set of arguments than to avoid these completely.
It takes a lot of discipline to stick to the text we are
working with when you support your argument, but it is really the point
of this kind of intellectual work – to state your understanding of the
arguments and opinions of others clearly and concisely.
- If it is a question that
asks you to take sides, make sure to acknowledge both sides. If you are rejecting one author in favor of
another, please say a little bit about where the rejected author fell
- Evidence can be in the form of:
parts of the readings that support your argument. If you are
readings, be very careful about the words that you choose.
Make sure that you are not editorializing
about what the author is trying to say without making it clear that you
doing so. For the purposes of the class
it is crucial that you are able to summarize the texts, but because of
space in your responses, avoid summarizing what you don't need for your
argument. Limit yourself to what best
supports your argument
brief quotes from the readings that directly support your argument. Be selective about what you quote because
length is such an issue. Don’t be afraid
to use quotes around the author’s terminology where appropriate. Use ellipses (...) if
should not come from personal anecdotes or
opinion but from the readings themselves.
- Proofread a few times.
The idea is to write something concise and
comprehensible to an audience that has read the texts you are
commenting on. Sloppiness is even more distracting and
counterproductive towards the goal of communicating your point in a