Recently, I got a chance to engage with the first-year students at the School Of Law at BML Munjal University on the theme of writing a response paper. The interaction provoked me to write about this seemingly innocuous yet very important theme of responding to a text, which is largely ignored in most Indian law schools. This short post is concerned with helping the students appreciate the art of writing a response paper. In this piece, I first distinguish between a response paper and a research paper. This effort stems from the fact that during my interaction I found that majority of students assume both to be the same. I shall then proceed to list important points that one should keep in mind when writing a response paper.
Students often confuse a response paper with a research paper. While both may have commonalities, yet they are not the same. While a research paper involves answering a self-identified research question, a response paper involves responding to a text that has been written by another author.
When we read, we are not conscious of the manner in which our mind processes the data or text we are feeding it. However, silently, our mind is making notes of the points in text with which we agree and the ones with which we do not. We may also appreciate or criticise the manner of writing of the author. A response paper demands you to become conscious of these thoughts and actively register them.
Therefore, the first step that I would suggest to students who are writing a response paper is to closely read the text they are responding to. If you are not aware of how to do close reading, I suggest you read Critical Reading in the Social Sciences by Manuel Vallée. Keep a pen and paper handy and write down the first thought that comes to your mind when you read each line. This would allow you to be conscious of your agreements and disagreements with the author and also identify the paragraphs that you find difficult to understand.
The beginning of a response paper involves making the reader familiar with the arguments of the author with whom the response is concerned. In one crisp paragraph, you should be able to summarise their important points. Please ensure that you paraphrase instead of copying their thesis verbatim. Once you have written a short summary and made the reader familiar, you should be able to convey in brief, your own take on the text. This shall form the thesis of your response to the text.
The rest of the response paper shall comprise of your justification and evidence to back your thesis. Your thesis is the primary claim you make in a paper. If you are dividing the response paper in a conventional introduction, body and conclusion format, then your body should consist of the following :
- Points on which you agree with the author
- Your disagreements with the author
- Identification of strength and weaknesses
- Identification of author’s assumptions and biases
- Your own worldview and take on the points
Ideally, the conclusion should not contain any new arguments. The conclusion should be used to convince the user that you have been able to prove your thesis with the help justification provided and evidence advanced. Your conclusion may contain a restatement of your thesis(however, it is advised that you paraphrase it instead of copying it verbatim) followed by how you have achieved what you claimed in your thesis statement.
I would like to conclude with the caveat that when you would read good response papers, it may or may not fit in the exact structure laid out above. The reason behind that is because there is no one particular correct method of writing a good response paper. However, you would still find the essential components present in any paper. Do not stress about this if you are a beginner. You may use the above as a checklist as you start. Gradually as you write more in law school, your writing will develop the skill of writing response papers more effectively even without a checklist at hand.
Anubhav Raj Shekhar
The author teaches law at the BML Munjal University, Gurugram. His Twitter handle is @anubhavraj92