This section focuses on writing Text Response essays, and it is divided into sections below
What is the task?
As the suggests, Text Response requires you to respond analytically to a particular text, within the boundaries of a given prompt.
At the core of this task, is a series of WHY’s questions. By this, I mean when you are analysing the author’s writing, you are essentially picking out quotes and explaining why these quotes are significant. During this process, it is important to consider:
- a) WHY does the author phrase something in a particular way (e.g. does this quote or symbol allude to another meaning?). This is dependent on the text.
- b) WHY does this example (that you have chosen) link to the overall essay prompt? This is dependent on the essay topic.
By addressing these ‘WHY’ questions frequently in your piece, this avoids the most common pitfall in Text Response, which is summarising the text rather than responding to and analysing the text.
The basic building block
A common trend in most essays you do is that the basic building block is always the HOW-WHAT-WHY structure. If you’ve seen the section on argument analysis, we will be using a similar structure here. It is just the specific content of each part that differs.
HOW – how does the author present their ideas (i.e. provide an example of a quotes or literary technique)
WHAT – what idea is the author trying to convey (i.e. what is the author saying about the topic)
WHY – why does the author phrase something in a particular way AND why does this link to the topic.
Here is an example of a HOW-WHAT-WHY, based upon Shakespere’s Macbeth for the following topic.
Topic: ‘Ambition leads to the downfall of characters’. Discuss.
Analysis: To highlight the danger of ambition, while Macbeth is pondering over murder, he commands “let not light see [his] dark and deep desires.” His “dark desires” refer to his immoral ambition, which has allowed malice to overshadow his virtue. Consequently, Macbeth’s decision almost ruins Scotland and results in his self-destruction.
The key thing to note here is that the WHY is usually two parts – this doesn’t mean it has to be two sentences, it can be more or less.
1) His “dark desires” refer to his immoral ambition, which has allowed malice to overshadow his virtue.
The first part of the red section refers to WHY the author has selected a particular phrase. In this case, the author mentions “dark desires” because it shows that this form of ambition is immoral and detrimental.
2) Consequently, Macbeth’s decision almost ruins Scotland and results in his self-destruction.
The second part of the red section refers to WHY this example links to the topic, which often involves you making your own inferences and conclusions based off the text. Since the topic is about how ambition leads to the downfall of characters, this example shows that Macbeth’s decision to murder begins his downfall spiral.
Let's see this in action with some high-scoring sample essays
This is an essay analysing the play The Women of Troy by Euripides.
Before we move on to the next essay, I thought I would share how I structure my text response essays through the video below, so my sample essay will make more sense. Just note there is no right structure, the purpose of having multiple perspectives is for you to find which works best for yourself.
Alright, here is another sample essay for ‘Wordsworth’s Poetry’. This video slightly more specific to the text, however feel free to view this essay and look for phrases and sentences stems to use in your own.
The video is divided into three parts for your convenience.