Short Essay Response Format

This is a sample reading response essay to an article titled “Cell Phones are Dangerous" by Mary Johnson, agreeing with the article and extending one of the ideas.

Intro:

Paragraph 1: Dramatic re-telling of a personal story of picking up my cell phone and then realizing that I am going to crash into another car. Stop the story right before the crash.

Paragraph 2: Like most people, I thought I was a good enough driver to handle using a cell phone while driving. I found out I was wrong. It turns out I’m not unusual. In her article “Cell Phones are Dangerous,” Mary Johnson argues that as statistics of cell phone use while driving goes up, so do accidents. According to Johnson, we should not use our phones while driving and should educate others not to use them either. Johnson cites statistics showing that talking on a cell phone is as dangerous as driving drunk. Moreover, she points out the increasing number of accidents caused by cell phone use. Her conclusion is that we need to personally decide not to use a cell phone while driving and that we need to educate our friends and family to give up using cell phones while driving too. I agree with Jones that cell phones are dangerous and that we should personally choose to not use one while driving; however, I’d go further than Jones by adding that we need to have laws that prohibit anyone from using cell phones in cars.

Body:

Each of these statements would be the topic sentence of one of the body paragraphs. For the first one, I also give examples of the type of arguments and support I would use to write that paragraph and prove my point.

1. Laws make people realize that cell phone driving is dangerous. (Below is an example of some support I could use to back up this idea—you can use ideas from the article but do not repeat the article.)

  • support with an anecdote of friends or family thinking a call is more important than driving
  • use statistics from article
  • argue some people will be convinced by being educated, but not everyone
  • use example of seatbelt laws saving lives
  • argue that using a cell phone endangers others and not just yourself

2. New technology requires changes in public policy.

3. People in my generation feel obligated to take a call, but if it is illegal to call while driving, they won’t feel that pressure.

4. Using hands-free headsets won’t work because it is the call which is distracting, not holding the phone.

5. This law will save a lot of lives.

Conclusion:

I would return to my personal story and pick it up where I left off. I do crash and there is a lot of damage to my car, but no one is hurt. I can explain my great relief that my cell phone use did not end more tragically, and my personal decision to put my cell phone where I can’t reach it while driving. End with an appeal to the reader to do the same, but to also support legislation to prohibit cell phone use while driving.

Extended-response or essay questions take care and thought, but they are nothing to fear. In fact, the more you show what you know about a topic, the more credit you are likely to receive on a test.

How To Do It

Good extended-response answers have three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
Beginning

The first paragraph introduces your main idea or position. It begins with a topic sentence. The topic sentence states plainly the point you intend to make in your answer. Often it simply restates the question.

Middle

The second paragraph provides information, examples, and details to support your main idea or position. This is where you show in detail what you know or think about the topic. If the answer calls for a great deal of information, you may need more than one paragraph.

Ending

The final paragraph sums up your main idea or position. It restates your topic sentence, this time with more feeling.

Now You Try

Work through these steps as you answer the question below. Write your answer on a separate piece of paper.

Step 1 Read the question carefully. Take a moment to think about it. What exactly is it asking? Are you being asked to argue a position or to show what you know about a subject? Be sure you know what you are being asked to do before you begin writing.

Question:
Many cities around the world are located near large rivers and lakes, or near an ocean. Why do you think this is so? Provide three or more important advantages that waterways offer cities, and explain why each advantage is important. Give examples.

Step 2 Decide on your main idea or position. You might simply want to restate the question. Write it down. This will be your topic sentence. Then add any extra information that will help explain your topic. That's your first paragraph.

Step 3 Now think. How can you fully explain your idea or position? What details and examples support your main idea? Choose the most convincing details and examples. Write them in separate sentences. Try to write the most important information first.

Step 4 Take a moment to review what you've written. Does it fully answer the question? Do you need to add any more information? Add what you need to and then move on. (Don't worry too much about grammar or spelling. Your answer will be graded on content rather than style. However, do be sure that your writing is neat!)

Step 5 You can breathe easily now: your final paragraph will be a snap! Write a sentence that summarizes your main point or position. The sentence should restate your topic sentence. This time, however, give it some zest. Then add any information that emphasizes what you've written. That's your final paragraph. You're done!

Review and Reflect

Peer review -- having another student comment on your written response or essay -- can be a good way to help you reflect on your work.

Trade your answer with another student. Read the other student's paper carefully. On the back, write your comments.

  • Did the student fully answer the question?
  • Is there a beginning, a middle, and an ending?
  • Could more information be added?
Now trade papers with another student. Comment on the new paper in the same way. When you're finished, return the paper to its writer and get your own back. Read the comments on the back. How could you improve your answer? Did other students have ideas or write answers that show you other ways you might respond to the question?

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