To write an answer essay you must read a text, understand the point of it and determine what your own answer to this point is. An answer essay is more analytical than argumentative. Also, even though you should write about your personal response, this response must be credible and not emotional.
Part 1 of 4: Understand the text
Step 1. Take detailed notes
Highlighting the text while reading it is not enough. You should take notes regarding the material and these notes should be written in your own words.
- Highlighting draws your attention to the words and passages that seem relevant to the text you are reading, but it does not allow you to record your initial ideas in relation to these passages.
- Take notes on a separate sheet of paper. In addition to your own ideas regarding the information you write down, you should also include paraphrases and quotes from the passage.
Step 2. Develop your understanding of the text by considering some questions
Before you can construct your own subjective opinion of the text, you must understand the text for what it is. An answer essay requires you to focus on your own interpretation of the text, but if you want to form a strong opinion about it, you need to have a basic understanding of the text itself.
Some questions worth considering include:
- What is the main issue that the author or creator is trying to address?
- What is the author's position on this matter? What is the author's main point or claim?
- Does the author assume anything when making his claim? Are these assumptions valid or partial?
- What kind of evidence does the author offer to support his point?
- What points in your argument are strong?
- What points in your argument are weak?
- What are some possible counterarguments to the author's claims or arguments?
- What makes the author's main topic or main claim important?
Step 3. If appropriate, analyze the text within a larger group of works
This step is not always necessary, but if you study a text that belongs to a larger context of a group of works (such as works by the author, contemporary works in the same field that analyze the same topic, etc.), comparing the objective of your answer with these other works can expand your understanding of the text itself and how useful it is.
Some questions worth considering include:
- How is this text related to others that belong to a set of works on the same subject or to another work on a similar subject written by a different author?
- Do the authors of these similar works agree or differ?
- Do the authors of these similar papers address the same part of the issue or different aspects of it? Do they view the issue under discussion in a similar or different way?
- Does the author who wrote the text you are analyzing have previous works that address the same issue? Have the author's views been strengthened or weakened compared to his previous works?
- Does the information in any of the texts strengthen or weaken the text that you must answer? If so, in what way?
Part 2 of 4: Prewriting Preparations
Step 1. Don't waste time
The best time to start your pre-writing preparations for your answer essay is immediately after you finish reading the text, so that the ideas are still fresh in your mind. If you can't start the pre-preparations right after, at least try to do it as soon as possible.
Even though you think your ideas can benefit from a period of assimilation before beginning an in-depth analysis, you should take the time to write your initial reaction while it is fresh. In many ways, your initial reaction is the most honest. You can change your mind over time and that other reaction may seem more "intellectual", but your initial response is your true reaction to the text and you should keep it in mind
Step 2. Ask yourself about your own reaction
Answer essays focus on your personal and subjective reaction to the text. You can get a general idea of how the text makes you feel, but you must analyze your own feelings about work well enough to understand the underlying thoughts that are responsible for those feelings..
Some questions worth considering include:
- How does the text relate to you on a personal level, be it past, present, or future? How does the text relate to experience as human beings in general?
- Does the text agree or differ with your vision of the world and your sense of ethics?
- Did the text help you learn more about the subject or understand a contrary point of view? Were your previous opinions or assumptions questioned or confirmed?
- Does the text directly address issues that interest you or consider important?
- Is the text pleasant or admirable for its genre? In other words, if the text is fictional, is it enjoyable as a form of entertainment or art? If it is historical, is it admirable from a historian's perspective? If it is philosophical, is it properly logical?
- What is your reaction in general? Would you recommend this text to someone else?
- Write down your answers as you go over these questions. In addition to recording your responses and reactions, also add evidence from the text to support these responses. The evidence can be in the form of direct quotes or paraphrases.
Step 3. Determine which of your reactions are the strongest
It is true that an answer essay is personal and that there is no single “correct” answer, but you must do more than simply express your opinion on the text. You must support your opinion with evidence from the text. Review your reactions and ideas and work with those that have more textual support.
There are many brainstorming techniques that you can use to help you determine which ideas are the strongest. Among these techniques we can consider the following:
- Re-examine your notes
- Record your ideas the moment they occur to you
- Use a pros and cons analysis
- Propose questions about your reactions and use your notes from the text to answer them
- Compare your reactions directly to your notes and determine which points match the most
Step 4. Pick an area of focus or a main storyline
Answer essays are not like traditional thesis essays, but you still need to choose an area or argument that you will primarily focus the essay on.
- Depending on the requirements of the assignment, you may need to come up with a main argument or arguments to analyze. However, even though you have several points to analyze, they must be connected to each other in some way.
- A key difference between a traditional thesis and a main argument is that the thesis typically exists to prove a point, fact, or idea. A main argument requires the writer to analyze the reading on an ongoing basis.
Part 3 of 4: Block Response Format
Step 1. Write your introduction
You should use your introduction to identify the main themes or ideas of the work and express your reaction or reactions to these themes.
- For a four to five page essay, your introduction can be one to two paragraphs. However, for a shorter essay, limit your introduction to a short paragraph of three to five sentences.
- Enter your essay describing how the text you are responding to fits into the larger issue to which it refers.
- You can also introduce your essay by explaining your own beliefs or assumptions about the issue with which the text agrees, before moving on to explain how the text questions or agrees with these beliefs.
Step 2. Summarize the text
Your answer essay should not focus on the summary of the text. There are some differences of opinion regarding the appropriate length that an abstract should have for this type of essay, but as a general rule, the abstract should occupy only half of the paragraphs of the body of the essay, or even less.
- For a four to five page essay, this section should be only two to three paragraphs long.
- Describe the content of the text and present the author's main arguments, especially how they affect your answer.
- The essay should be more analytical in nature than an identical wording of the text. When presenting the details of the author's text and their argument, you should use an analytical tone and analyze how well the author addressed these issues together.
Step 3. Present and analyze your main argument
At this point you must explain how you reacted on an intellectual level to the text you are responding to. You can include separate paragraphs explaining what you agree with and how you differ, or you can focus on the overall agreement or disagreement and write as many paragraphs as you need to cover your answer.
- Keep in mind that this response format is best used when focusing on a main topic or argument in your essay. This format does not work as well when you analyze multiple ideas put forward in your essay.
- Support your analysis with quotes and paraphrases. Be sure to cite each example appropriately.
- If you took the time to find textual evidence to support your answers at the preparatory stage, this section of the essay should be fairly easy for you. All you have to do is organize your argument in a coherent way and write the details that support your argument that you already compiled.
Step 4. Write a conclusion
At this point you should rephrase your position for the reader and briefly defend the importance of your position.
- Even for a four to five page essay, you only need a conventional paragraph to cover this section. For a shorter essay, write this paragraph in three or five sentences.
- Explain how this essay has a broader effect on you and the gender or community to which you belong.
Part 4 of 4: Combined Response Format
Step 1. Write an introduction
Create a short paragraph that introduces the main themes and ideas you plan to answer. Also briefly state or state your reaction to these topics.
- Your introduction may be one to two paragraphs long for a four to five page essay, but for a short one to two page essay, keep your introduction to a single paragraph short.
- You can introduce the text by describing how it fits into the issue it refers to as a whole or by explaining how the text impacts your personal beliefs regarding the issue.
- At the end of the introduction you should mention your "thesis" or main argument.
Step 2. Summarize and agree or differ with a point
When using the combined response format, you should mention one issue at a time and respond to each issue as it arises. Your summary of the topic and how the text represents it should not take up more than a third of the paragraph and your response to the topic should make up the rest of the paragraph.
- Keep in mind that this combined response format is a better option when you have a lot of loosely related topics or ideas that you want to address rather than just one general idea.
- This method allows you to weave your summary and analysis together in a more natural and cohesive way. When mentioning a point or example from the text, express your own interpretation of that point right after mentioning it.
Step 3. Summarize and agree or differ with a second point and continue with the rest
When using this format, you should try to have at least three points to summarize and answer in the form of an individual paragraph.
Continue writing in the same way as with the first point. When summarizing a point or argument from the original text, express your own intellectual response to this argument right after mentioning it
Step 4. End your essay with a conclusion
Restate your position or reactions to the text in a short paragraph. If desired or appropriate, explain why the topic is important in general.
- For a four to five page essay, your conclusion should be the size of a conventional paragraph. For a shorter essay, keep this paragraph three sentences long.
- If appropriate, explain why the text has a general impact on the genre or community to which it belongs.