As we have discussed, academic writing requires you to go beyond summary, beyond the “book report” format, in order to respond critically and thoughtfully about some topic, text, or situation. To practice this skill in a more formal writing context, you will read the memoir, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and write a critical response.
A critical response is an essay that requires you to conduct a basic analysis and reflect on your educated, evidence-based opinion in response to the text. Your Critical Response Essay should begin with a brief summary of the text, BTWAM, while the bulk of the essay should detail your analysis & claims. In your analysis, you will ask questions about a text and to dig deep into its patterns and implications. Thus, your task will not be to simply demonstrate understanding of the text, but to also continue the conversation that Ta-Nehisi Coates had started with you.
While you will be discussing your opinion, critical response goes beyond agree/ disagree and like/ dislike reactions. An effective analytic response will focus on one or two important, significant, or out of place elements of the text–- something that stuck out to you when you encountered it in the text–-and seek to understand it/them. One way to do this is to select a phrase or sentence from the text and focus on this. You will explain how a (local) quotation relates to the overall (global) argument of the text. Does it support it? Complicate it? Your response should make the implicit explicit by asking “so what?” and drawing out some interesting implications. Look for patterns in the language to understand what is at stake. After dwelling in the data and analyzing your local part of the text, interpret the meaning of what you have discovered. Frame your interpretation (response) as a direct statement – your claim.
An effective summary will:
• explain the author’s overall argument – what is at stake in the piece?
• describe the main ideas of the text that support/ inform the overall argument
• include at least one notable quotation
• attempt to be objective (to report/ describe) and avoid personal opinion
The following model is useful to adopt for academic summaries:
In their article, “Title,” authors X, Y, and Z argue such and such because of the following reasons.
[Summarize the reasons and provide specific and relevant examples from the text using MLA style.]
Again, your summary should be brief–just enough to orient the reader to the part(s) of the text you are focusing on. In a 3-4 page Critical Response, your summary should be no longer than one paragraph. An essay that over-summarizes will lose points!
Your response should contain the following organizing elements:
• a claim that clearly frames your response to the reading or a question that leads you into analysis
• a middle section that clearly and explicitly outlines your analytical thinking process
• specific examples and reasons supporting your ideas (do not generalize)
• a conclusion that explains the results of your analysis – what did you learn?
For this essay, you will write a 3-4 page, double-spaced Critical Response to Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates in MLA format, including in-text citations and a Work Cited. You should not consult outside sources for this assignment. In fact, posing someone else’s analysis as your own is considered plagiarism, so it would be smart to avoid using websites like Sparknotes, Shmoop, GradeSaver, etc. I’ve seen them all, so don’t think I won’t notice if your response is similar! If you struggle with the reading, it’s better to talk to me or a classmate than to get a zero for plagiarizing off Shmoop. Trust me. And before anyone asks, yes, that means your Work Cited should only include the citation for BTWAM; your in-text citations should correspond.
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