How To: Write a Reading Response Without Doing the Reading

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Perhaps the most important skill a college student will acquire in their four years of higher learning is the ability to accomplish large amounts of work in a thorough and timely fashion effectively convey an air of confidence and opinion about work they have not done. This ability is tested each time said student arrives at class un-prepared, but is never as threatened as by reading responses typically required for small, weekly seminars.  Here, a senior who has very legitimately not had time to do the 900 pages of reading assigned to him as a result of his active job search and binge-drinking, is asked to review and engage with this reading all on his own. Of course, this senior is a senior and has had three years to cultivate his own unique style of response, which flies subtly under the radar while still appearing substantiated. For those who need a little more help, here goes:

1. Don’t be a hero. Your response doesn’t need to be the longest on Canvas. You haven’t done the reading so every claim you make is tenuous, and has the potential to betray your web of lies. Keep it short, and keep it simple. Medium-length responses display the confidence of someone who has, in fact, done the reading and has nothing to prove, without the arrogance of someone who actually enjoyed the work and has something to say. This is your sweet spot.

2. Start with a clarification/question. Another way of demonstrating a level of confidence that can only be associated with someone who has, in fact, done the reading, is to admit that you did not understand something about the text. This will make you seem grounded, secure in your own intelligence, and, most importantly, like you have done the reading. Ex. “I found Smith’s piece about Houston slightly inaccessible as someone who has never been to Texas. His references, I felt, relied on knowledge of southern architecture and climate, without which I lacked context.”

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3. Pull quotes. Obviously you need to fill up space somehow and there is no better way than by directly quoting the text itself. Any time spent word-for-word citing the author is time not spent making assertions that may turn out to be embarrassingly incorrect. Of course, too much textual citation will instantly raise suspicion so be wary of going overboard. Additionally, make sure your quotes are from varying texts and portions of text. Quoting only the first two pages of a 200-page essay is a rookie mistake, and everyone in the class will laugh at you behind your back and volunteer you first for their next ritual sacrifice. One final quoting strategy is two pull two quotes from separate texts and open a dialogue about their similarities and differences. Ex. “So when Smith says Houston is hot, and Bensinger mentions that J. Edgar Hoover was ‘cold’ how can we look at weather in these distinct pieces as a common thread in this week’s discussion of gender?”

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