Throughout your studies of VCE English, you will be writing a lot of text response essays, in response to a set text. The essay is based off a certain prompt, and the most important themes, characters and events are discussed throughout it.
Text response essays are the ones that you will be writing the most often, as you are required to write one in all semesters from Year 10 up. Therefore, it is important that you practise these types of essays often, to ensure you are fully prepared come your final exams.
This article will take you through some things you should keep in mind when writing your own text response essays.
1. Understand the Structure
Before you write a text response essay, you need to understand the required structure – it is one of the criteria that you will be marked on!
Every essay should have an introduction, 3-4 body paragraphs and a conclusion. However, there are certain things that you need to have in each of these parts. For example, you may have been taught the TEEL structure for body paragraphs and been told that an introduction needs to have a contention and signposting.
Knowing the structural requirements will ensure that you don’t forget to write any vital information in your essay.
You can find detailed information about the structure of a text response essay in this video:
2. Comment on the Author’s Intentions
Everything that an author does in their text is intentional (well, not always, but you should think it as so.) Therefore, when you make a claim or notice a significance structural device, you should follow it up with what the author is trying to say about it. Generally, you should aim to mention the author’s name at least 1-2 times in each body paragraph.
The following are some questions that may help you think about the author’s intentions.
- What views do the author believe in?
- What is the author trying to say about the real world? (The answer to this question should be in your conclusion).
- How has the use of a certain structural device added to the authors purpose?
- Why have they characterised a certain character in the way that they have?
- What is the purpose of a character/plot?
Don’t worry – it’s true that you can never be certain about what an author intended. Your teacher just wants to know your interpretations!
3. Consider the Context
The context is the setting, environment, or period in which a text takes place. The context is going to influence the themes and behaviours of characters immensely, so you shouldn’t omit it in your discussions. Usually, your teachers will explain the context of the text before you even begin reading it so you don’t get completely lost.
The context can include any social, cultural, and historical values. Most of the texts you study would have been written (or set) many years ago – views and values change a lot over time, so something that would have been appropriate back then may seem out of place in current living times.
For example, the play 12 Angry Men was set in the 1950s - which was a time of post-war migration and racial segregation in the US. This strongly impacted the way certain Jurors treated the defendant. If the play was set in the 2000s, their discussions would have looked a lot different.
Considering the context will also help you when discussing author’s intent – what real-world issues have influenced the author to write the text?
4. Have a Clear Contention
In your text response essays, the contention is what your personal stance on the given prompt is. Do you agree or disagree with what the prompt says? Perhaps you’re on the fence? Your contention needs to be very clear, so your marker knows the side you will be taking throughout your essay.
An easy way to come up with the contention is to rephrase the prompt to fit your opinion. However, this may not always lead to a contention with enough depth.
5. Don’t Summarise, Analyse
One of the most common errors that students make when writing a text response essay is summarising parts of the text. Your teacher knows what happens – they want to know what YOU think of it.
Summarising can be avoided by simply changing a few words in the sentence – this is called nominalisation. This process involves turning a verb into a noun, making the sentence change from simply describing an action to focusing on an effect.
6. Have Counterarguments
When responding to a prompt, you should aim to discuss multiple perspectives. As you construct your contention, using words such as ‘however,’ and ‘whilst,’ can help introduce an alternate view. This shows your marker that you have considered all aspects of the prompt.
To ensure that your essay flows well, it is good to have two body paragraphs discussing one side, and a third paragraph with the counterargument. This is prefarable to having an argument and counterargument within the same paragraph.
7. Remember Quotes
By using quotes in your essays, you are showing your reader that you have a sound understanding of your text and aren’t making false claims. However, you shouldn’t be adding quotes just for the sake of it. They should be short, well embedded and help support an argument, not detract from it. Additionally, make sure that you aren’t retelling the story when you add a quote in – it is best to avoid saying things like, ‘the character says “XXX”.’
8. Discuss Metalanguage and Structural Features
When writing texts, authors use a lot of different metalanguage and structural devices. Sometimes, they are done simply for literary effect, but other times, they are used to add meaning.
Common structural features used by a writer include:
Structural features also depend on the text type – when you are analysing a film things like camera angles and sound will be very important.
- You should always think about:
- The effect that a certain device has on a reader
- What it says about a certain character/event
- The devices’ main purpose
- Any themes it relates to
Hopefully this article gave you some ideas that you can implement into your text response essays! The better your understanding of the text, the better your essays will be, so don’t forget to spend time reading/annotating your text before you begin writing.
If you'd like, you can download a set of notes which summarises the structure of a text response essay here.