Helpful hints for Writing a Critical Response
See page discussing MLA Format (i.e. using proper header, etc. )
See page listing more specific hints for the Research Paper
First and foremost, remember that this is a critical
response paper, not a personal response
You must maintain an academic perspective throughout your paper.
You are presenting an argument and supporting it with evidence
from the text or other sources. Therefore, avoid the
following types of statements: "It seems to me," "I think," "I
believe," and "It is obvious that." In fact, avoid using the
first person (and second person, for that matter) altogether.
It must contain a strong thesis statement in a strong
Be sure your first paragraph is an overview of the contents of
your essay. It's almost like an outline for your reader that is
written in complete sentences. Sometimes it's helpful to go back
and refocus your first paragraph after you've finished your essay.
The body of the essay should be filled with information related
to your thesis.
- Your thesis sentence should present a point that you will
prove. Do not make announcements ("This paper will
examine Mary Shelley's use of nature in Frankenstein.")
or ask questions (Who is the real villain of Frankenstein?
Let's find out.").
- You also need to make sure you introduce both the author
and work to be analyzed as early as possible.
- Be sure to use quotation marks for titles of shorter
works, such as poems and short stories, and italics for
titles of longer works, such as plays, epic poems and
- Avoid using references to the dictionary (Webster's
defines love as . . . ").
- You also really need to avoid making comparisons to
"real life" or "today's world." These terms tend to come up
especially frequently in discussions of gender. Fight the urge
to discuss them.
Each paragraph has a topic sentence and a concluding sentence.
You should use evidence within your paragraphs which further
explains what your topic sentence introduced. Don't forget to
clearly express your own opinions. Avoid repeating yourself.
Use past tense to discuss historical or biographical events, but
present tense when discussing literature.
- Avoid plot summary! Use quotes from only those
sections of the text immediately relevant to your discussion!
Each time your read a text, the events occur all over again.
Therefore, as you describe these events, always use present verb
tense: "Victor creates a creature out of dead body
parts." "The creature follows Victor all the way to Scotland."
Evidence is needed in your paper.
Be sure to support all your points with quotes, (brief) summaries,
and paraphrases from the text.
Using proper MLA format, include parenthetical citations with
proper punctuation and a Works Cited page.
Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are critical to your reader.
- Be careful when quoting verse--Use slashes to show line
breaks and cite by line (or act.scene.line for plays).
- Introduce and explain all quotes. This means you
should avoid beginning or ending a paragraph with a quote and
you should never place quotes back to back without discussion
in between them.
- Also, avoid using quotes as the subjects of sentences!
- "x x x x x x" means that . . . [awkward]
- When he says, "x x x x x," he means . . . .
[also pretty awkward]
- Avoid plagiarism!
- Do not use a cover page.
Good grammar will make your ideas clearer to your reader.
Proofread your paper. Check for spelling errors. Use
- Do not use "how."
- Seriously, avoid using this word. In most cases "that" is
a more appropriate word to use.
- Do not use constructions that might lead to the use
- For example, instead of saying, "Shelley talks
about how ..." say "Shelley says
- Don't use "in which" when you mean "that."
- Don't use "that" when you mean "who" (i.e. when referring
- Use punctuation to show possession: "Shelley's
book" not "Shelley book"
Do not use run-on sentences. Again, it's better to make shorter
clearer sentences than long confusing ones.
Commas are often needed when you do write a longer sentence (but
don't overuse them!).
Try to use smooth transitions between one paragraph and the next.
A strong conclusion leaves your reader fulfilled and your
Briefly sum up your thesis. Perhaps your final thesis has a little
more content than the thesis in your introductory paragraph
because the reader now knows where you are coming from.
Don't be afraid to make your final paragraph really count in some
way. Again, it gives the reader something to remember you by.