A response or reaction essay is a short piece of writing whose goal is to convey your reaction to something – usually a text, but alternatively it can be a film, a performance, an event or something else. However, in the context of public administration you are likely to write about books, articles, documents and the like.
The main characteristic of a response essay is that it somewhat deviates from the usual tone and approach of academic writing. Typically, when your professor tasks you to write about a text you read, you are supposed to maintain the same impersonal and objective viewpoint as in all other academic writing. A response essay is a bit more personal. It is less concerned with the characteristics of the subject matter and more with your individual opinion of it. To reflect it, it has to be written in the first person. It still should use all the normal trappings of an academic essay (thesis statement, standard structure, evidence etc.), but you are free to express whatever you think about the text in question.
In this guide, you will find everything you need to know to write a top-notch response essay on any topic related to public administration.
How to Write a Response Essay in Public Administration: Preparations
1. Choose a Topic
Sometimes your professor will assign a specific reading for you to respond to, sometimes you are free to choose whatever you like, whether within a certain selection or in anything related to the general topic of your course. If you have a certain amount of freedom, you have to approach the choice of topic wisely, for the success of your paper to a large degree depends on how successful your choice is.
- Pick an interesting and thought-provoking topic. Were there any particularly important or innovative articles among those you read throughout the course?
- Choose a topic you understand well. When writing a response essay, you will not have enough time to study the basic material related to the topic if you do not understand it already. Most of your energy will be focused on formulating, explaining and providing evidence for your opinion;
- Select a sufficiently challenging topic. You may be tempted to choose something that does not require mental effort. However, the results will be unrewarding, and your professor will most likely understand that you have chosen the path of least resistance;
- Write about something you have a strong opinion on. A response essay is subjective by definition – you have to express your thoughts, ideas and feelings on the subject. If you do not feel anything in particular, your writing will pass as inauthentic.
Eventually, you should end up with something like this:
- Response to Woodrow Wilson’s Essay ‘The Study of Administration’: Why It Lies at the Foundation of the Discipline of Public Administration;
- Response to the Public Administration Reforms in the United States;
- Response to Viktor Bekkers’ Article ‘Innovation in the Public Sector’;
- Response to the Difference in Public Administration Principles between the USA and France;
- Public Administration Measures in the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic.
2. Formulate a Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is the main idea you want to impart in your essay, boiled down to one or two sentences. In the context of a response essay, you should indicate the subject matter of your paper (usually a text) and what your general attitude towards it is. Make sure it is:
- Specific. It does not have to be the only thing you will cover in your essay. Choose a single most important point and feel free to discuss supporting points later in the text;
- Clear. A thesis statement should not leave an opportunity for multiple interpretations;
- Original. A response essay is supposed to express your own opinion, so do not borrow your thesis statement anywhere.
Do not feel obliged to stick to your thesis statement once you have finished it. It serves to give your essay a direction, not to shackle you. If in the course or writing you discover that you have to modify your stance on the subject matter, feel free to do so and reflect it in the thesis statement.
In the essay, thesis statement should be introduced early, usually immediately after the introduction. The audience should find out what they deal with as soon as possible.
3. Write an Outline
Some students believe they can save time by simply jumping right into the fray, forgoing planning and preparation entirely. Unfortunately, usually it has a directly opposite result: when writing without a plan, you will waste more time rewriting, backtracking, introducing what you have missed and excising what you have repeated than you will save by skipping the outlining stage.
In an outline, you list all the major elements of your essay and jot down what you are going to say in each of them, how you will connect them to each other and what evidence you will present. Do not go overboard: some students write outlines so detailed that it takes them almost as much time to finish as the essay itself. Provide as much detail as you need to remember everything relevant, but no more.
How to Write a Response Essay in Public Administration: Writing Process
1. Keep Your Audience in Mind
Just like with any other kind of writing, the most important aspect of a response essay is your audience. Keep the following in mind as you work on it:
- You write for your teacher/professor. He/she will mark your essay, so you have to study the instructions carefully and make sure you follow them and answer the question;
- He/she has been reading similar essays for a long time and knows quite well what to expect from an average student. So think what would be the most obvious thing to write about the subject matter and discard it. Be original and unpredictable;
- He/she is going to read multiple other similar essays in a row and is likely to be bored by the time he/she reaches yours. Keep things interesting;
- He/she is likely to be pressed for time. Your professor is not interested in your viewpoint enough to reread rambling, poorly written fragments to decipher their meaning. He/she probably does not care about what you believe to be your beautiful writing style. He/she will appreciate if your writing is concise and easy to follow.
2. Write a Strong Hook
The hook is the first sentence or a few opening sentences of your essay whose primary goal is to intrigue the reader, motivate him/her to read on and show that you have something to say about the subject matter. As a hook’s success is built upon its originality, it is hard to give specific tips here, but here are some common approaches to finding the right tone:
- Use a question. It is important for a response essay to engage with the reader, and asking the audience a question is one of the best ways to do it;
- Start with a strong statement. Go beyond dry facts and statistics that are usually associated with public administration and make a statement that will make the audience interested in how you can follow it up;
- Begin with a fact or statistic. Do you know a fact that may be hard to believe unless you are already aware of it? Introduce it to give the audience some food for thought.
Finish the opening by stating the subject of your paper and its purpose.
3. Provide a Summary of the Text
Body of a response essay starts with a short summary of what you respond to. Depending on the size of your paper, it can be as short as a couple of sentences or as long as a few paragraphs. Here is how you present it:
- Provide info about the text: the author’s identity and credentials, information about the publisher, publication date;
- Summarize the contents of the text. Focus on the main points and key supporting aspects, try to be as concise as possible;
- Use direct quotations from the text if necessary, but limit it to the most important points;
- Do not discuss the work as yet – right now you simply present the facts.
4. Offer Strong Arguments in the Body Paragraphs
Follow up by offering at least three responses to the text in question along with the evidence to back them up. If no responses come up immediately, you can jumpstart your creativity by asking yourself questions like these:
- What is your opinion about the ideas presented in the text? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s viewpoint? Why?
- What can you say about the ideas in the article based on your personal experience?
- How does the article relate to other readings on similar topics and your course in general? For example, does it treat any issues in more details than your course textbook does?
- Did the text improve your knowledge of a particular topic?
- How is the work related to the real issues public administration has to deal with?
- Will you recommend this work to others, and why?
5. Follow the Four Rules of Effective Writing
When writing, pay attention to how strictly you adhere to the four rules of effective writing, namely:
- Unity. It means that every word, sentence and paragraph serve a single purpose, either supporting or explaining the main idea of the essay. You do not go on tangents or introduce irrelevant information;
- Support. It means that your essay has enough supporting details to sufficiently back up the main point. For every point you make, you provide reliable evidence and do not make unsupportable claims;
- Coherence. It means that the essay works as a whole. The text follows an internal logic, paragraphs smoothly flow one into another, there are no gaps in your reasoning;
- Sentence skills. It means that you do not make distracting mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation or syntax.
How to Write a Response Essay in Public Administration: Common Mistakes
1. Hiding from Feedback or Not Taking It Seriously
Once you have finished the essay, look for an opinion of someone you trust and listen to it carefully. You may feel too attached to your essay to change anything based on what somebody says, but mistakes and flaws are always better seen from the outside.
2. Neglecting the Word Count
Response essays are usually relatively short, which means that you have to use your allotted word count strategically. Both failing to reach it and going beyond it are equally bad: the former indicates that you do not have enough to say about the topic, the latter shows that you fail to focus and express yourself in a concise manner. Try to stick as close to the word count as possible, without deviating in either direction.
3. Using the Wrong Style and Tone
While response essays deal with personal opinions, they should not steer far away from the style and tone traditionally used in academic papers on public administration. You are allowed to talk about your individual impressions and conclusions when dealing with the subject matter, but try to avoid emotionally charged language, colloquial words, expressions and structures (e.g., contractions), slang and jargon. It may not be a scholarly article in a pure sense, but stick as close to academic style as you can.
4. Forgoing Proofreading and Formatting Check
While professors are primarily concerned with what you have to say, how you say it and how you package your work are still very important. They may overlook a couple of insignificant typos, instances of awkward grammar or failures to comply with the style guide. But if you consistently make mistakes, it will have consequences. Your professor will decrease your grade out of sheer annoyance at having to waste time reading your sloppy writing and trying to figure out what you wanted to say. Most word processors have a spellchecker, and there are multiple online tools that supposedly help you with your spelling and grammar, but relying on them too much is another common mistake – they are far from perfect.
5. Padding out Your Writing
Adding padding to reach the word count faster with less effort is an old trick that never works. Most professors recognize the so-called “fluffy” writing immediately and factor it in your grade. Go in the opposite direction: remove everything you can do without. Go over your entire essay and remove every word, sentence and paragraph that are not essential to drive your point home. Concise writing is good writing.
While in writing response essays a lot depends on the specifics of a task and what you respond to, we believe that this guide will help you find your voice and start producing top-notch essays starting with your next assignment!