How To Write A Text Response Essay Structure

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We’ve all been doing Text Response essays from as young as Year 7. At this point in VCE, we should be feeling relatively comfortable with tackling themes and characters in our essays. However, the danger with just discussing themes and characters is that we often fall into the trap of simply paraphrasing the novel, or retelling the story. So how do we elevate our essays to become more sophisticated and complex analyses that offer insight?

An important distinction to be aware of is that the expectation of Year 11 English was geared more toward themes and characters. However in Year 12, teachers and examiners expect students to focus on the author’s construction of the text. By keeping in mind that the text is a DELIBERATE CONSTRUCTION, this can help eliminate retelling. A good guideline to follow is to include the author’s name at least once every paragraph.

Some examples are:

  • (author) elicits
  • (author) endorses or condemns
  • (author) conveys

Move beyond talking about character and relationships. How are those characters used to explore ideas? How are they used to show readers what the author values?

To explore the text BEYOND characters, themes and ideas, tackle the following criteria:

Social, cultural and historical values embodied in text

In other words, this means the context in which the text was written. Think about how that influenced the author, and how those views and values are reflected in the text. How does the author create social commentary on humanity?

Linguistic structures and features

These involve the author’s use of symbols, metaphors, subtext, or genres. Consider why the author chose those particular words, images or symbols? What effect did it evoke within the reader? What themes or characters are embodied within these literary devices? Metalanguage is essential in VCE essays, so ensure you are confident in this field.

If the text is a film, it’s important to include why the director chose certain cinematography techniques. Comment on the mise-en-scene, camera angles, overview shots, close ups, flashbacks, soundtrack, to name a few. Or if it’s a play, examine the stage directions. These contain great detail of the author’s intentions.

How text is open to different interpretations

“While some may perceive… others may believe…” is a good guideline to follow in order to explore different angles and complexities of the text.

Skilful weaving in of appropriate quotes

This is how to create a well-substantiated essay. To weave in textual evidence, don’t simply ‘plonk’ in sentence long quotes. Instead, use worded quotes within your sentences so the transition is seamless.

Do you know how to embed quotes like a boss? Test yourself with our blog post here.

Strong turn of phrase

Ensure your essay is always linked to the prompt; don’t go off on an unrelated tangent. Linking words such as “conversely” or “furthermore” increase coherence within your essay. Begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence, and finish each paragraph with a broader perception that links back to the topic and the next paragraph.

This is also where having a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to presenting your ideas in a sophisticated manner. Create a word bank from assessor’s reports, sample essays, or teacher’s notes, and by the end of the year you’ll have an extensive list to choose from. Also, referring to literary devices contributes to a great vocabulary, exhibiting a strong turn of phrase!

Consider the topic

What does it imply? Find the underlying message and the implications behind the prompt. There is always tension within the topic that needs to be resolved by the conclusion of your essay.

Finally, simply enjoy writing about your text! It will help you write with a sense of personal voice and a personal engagement with the text, which the teachers and assessors will always enjoy.

Extra: Want a step-by-step process—and all the tools you'll need—to ace Text Response? Become a Text Response expert today and breeze through VCE English. Start your journey with our Ultimate VCE English Study Guide now.

In a text response essay, you will be assessed on your ability to develop an argument/discussion relating to a prompt, your ability to analyse themes, issues and characters in an insightful way, your ability to identity an author’s intentions and unpack their narrative devices.

Remember, the reason you are studying your particular text is because it has some complex and thoughtful themes. You must discuss the text’s complexity, but in a systematic way. Start with the simple and obvious points and then show a progression of thoughts.

If you are getting around a mid-range C-B, you probably need to work on:

Topic sentences
  • Sharper and more analytical topic sentences. Make sure they directly answer the question and set up a paragraph that will develop the main theme in a thoughtful and profound way.
  • Make sure that each topic sentence has a different focus so as to avoid repetition. In a B-range essay there is often considerable repetition of ideas.
Evidence
  • Evidence: you must be as analytical as possible and avoid general statements. Show an insightful knowledge of the text by choosing key evidence/insightful/ ambivalent examples in the text to support the topic sentence.
  • Build your discussion around the author’s intentions, purpose, narrative devices. These will keep the focus on analysis rather than summary.
  • Be sure to show readers/assessors that you are capable of precise and accurate analysis of characters, themes and significant moments/turning points in a text’s narrative. 

The flow of ideas throughout the paragraph

  • Take each topic sentence and brainstorm the points/quotes/insights that you must include in the paragraph. Group together similar ideas and then delve deeper.
  • Make sure that your paragraph flows. Do not just cobble together a list of statements or quotes. Make sure that each point follows and adds to the previous point.
  • Make sure you give priority to the narrative devices.
  • Do not just add irrelevant details in order to pad the paragraph; or if there are two perspectives/views on the statement, include them separately.
  • Please see sample paras on Romeo and Juliet.
Expression
  • Awkward phrases: work on sophistication of expression. Avoid clumsy verb phrases. Use nominals. Work at incorporating quotes  into the grammatical construction of your sentence. Use a combination of short, snappy sentences and longer sentences. Do not lose control of the subject. See Notes on Improving Expression.
Quick Tip

Write a 1-2 page summary of the “most important” or key points/issues in the text.  Ask yourself, if you had to write a response on this text, what could you absolutely not leave out, or omit to mention (taking into account that given the prompt, you may make a short or longer reference to this key piece of evidence/quote/views/values.)

  1. See Writing a Comparative Essay
  2. See Romeo and Juliet : Study Page
  3. See Macbeth: Study Page
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