7 Writing the Critical Response Essay (CRE)


The Critical Response Essay is a multi-paragraph, multi-page essay that requires you to take one of your Critical Response Paragraphs and revise it to create a more complex and stronger argument. You should choose your best CRP or the one that most interests you. Focus on making it not only a longer argument, but also a better argument, using what you’ve learned since writing the original piece to improve the argument and the writing itself (argument form, paragraph form, and grammar). Also use what you’ve learned from my feedback and from our discussions in class and individual conferences. You must include confutation.


CREs require that you use classical argument form. The parts of this kind of argument are as follow:

Key Takeaways

  • Title.
  • Introduction Paragraph, ending with claim
  • [Confutation as first argument paragraph?]
  • Argument Paragraphs (two or three): Begin with a subclaim, then support it by providing textual evidence and analysis of evidence [including confutation within?]
  • [Confutation as final argument paragraph?]
  • Conclusion [confutation as conclusion?]
  • Works Cited




Your title may not be simply the title of the story or the assignment. It must be a title that is specific to your argument.



  1. Introduce the story and the author about which you are writing. If you’re writing about a film, identify the director.
  2. Call attention to the features of the story on which you will base your argument. This is the ONLY part of the essay in which you may summarize parts of the story.
  3. END the introduction with your CLAIM.



  • If you have no claim, you have no argument, and therefore you may earn a disappointing grade.
  • Likewise, if your claim does not appear in the introduction, your reader has no way of knowing what your subclaims and evidence are attempting to prove.
  • It’s not like a joke where you save the punchline until last.
  • It’s not mystery-writing, where you don’t identify the murderer until the end.
  • It’s an argument. So for your reader to understand what is the point of all the evidence and analysis you’re working so hard to create, you must tell her, in the introduction, what you’re trying to argue and prove.



Writing an Arguable Claim

  • Think in terms of theme.
  • Theme cannot be expressed with just a word or even a short phrase, like sibling rivalry or fear of marriage. Those are interesting topics, but they are not yet themes.
  • To turn a topic into a theme, you must be able to say what the story shows us about the topic, that relates to real life beyond the story.



“Beauty and the Beast” illustrates sibling rivalry.

This is an insufficient claim about theme because it doesn’t give me even a hint of what you think the story says about sibling rivalry. Unless you plan to tell me that in the next sentence, there’s a problem with your claim. By the way, a claim can be more than one sentence.




Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast” illustrates how sibling rivalry can be caused by unnecessary competition for mates, particularly in the case of sisters.

Now that’s an arguable claim because it includes author, title, a topic, and what the story says about the topic and how it relates to real life.


You can make this claim even stronger (and give yourself greater confidence that your argument will be persuasive) by including the main textual evidence you will cite.


In Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast,” the elder sisters’ abusive treatment of Beauty illustrates how sibling rivalry can be caused by competition for mates.



Or you could revise this idea to discuss how cultural expectations play a role in this kind of rivalry and unhealthy competition. See the CRP Example for something like that.




If it helps, you can think of these components as part of a formula.

Let X be the story and some particular feature of it.

Let Y be the theme you are arguing.

Instead of an equal sign, we insert a verb that expresses the relationship between X and Y:

(=) illustrates, shows, portrays, dramatizes, suggests (etc.)



In this example:

Let X be the elder sisters’ resentment toward Beauty.

Let Y be how sibling rivalry can be caused by competition for mates.

Notice in the example below how this process creates an arguable claim.



(X) The elder sisters’ resentment toward Beauty in “Beauty and the Beast”


(=) illustrates, shows, portrays, dramatizes, suggests (etc.)


(Y) how sibling rivalry can be caused by competition for mates.



  • Support the claim with argument paragraphs.
  • How many you need is up to you, but generally at least two, in some cases three or four.
  • Begin EVERY argument paragraph with a TOPIC SENTENCE
  • The topic sentence is like a mini-claim, the paragraph’s claim
  • Tells me what you’ll argue in this paragraph
  • And tells or shows how this point supports the main claim.
  • Support the topic sentence with textual evidence and analysis
  • Quotations and your analysis of them.
  • See the Quotation Sandwich document for guidance.
  • Vary the verbs you use to incorporate quotations into your sentences. DO NOT use the words “says,” “states,” or “writes” (or any forms of these verbs). See the document titled “Effective Verbs for Introducing Quotations in Canvas for many possible verbs that you may use.
  • Use transitional terms—also called “signposts”—to show the relationships from one point to the next and from one paragraph to the next. The internet is full of lists of transitional terms. Here’s one good source: Transition Words.



Confutation makes an argument stronger by dealing with opposing points and evidence.

  • Confutation includes the following parts:
  • Presenting opposition fairly (opposing claims or ideas)

Remember that the opposition must not be a “straw man.” That is, you must engage with something that a careful reader would actually argue, not a simplistic, obviously erroneous reading.


Some readers might argue that the sisters are not abusive toward Beauty.

This example is a straw man statement. No one would seriously argue this point because the sisters actually plot to get Beauty killed, and what could be more abusive than that?


  • Refuting the opposition: showing how it is incorrect or at least as correct as your reading.
  • Confutation may occur in any of four parts of the argument
    • Directly after the introduction
    • o Directly before the conclusion
    • o As part of the conclusion
    • o Within paragraphs, to deal with possible alternative interpretations of your textual evidence.


Consider a confutation involving the fairy who appears at the end of “Beauty and the Beast” and what she does to Beauty’s sisters. That is, she punishes the two sisters for their bad behavior. Some readers see this as fair because those mean girls get what’s coming to them. But others see it as a missed opportunity to promote sisterhood among all three of the girls. Here are examples of how to write these points as a complete confutation.



State the opposition, as fairly as possible: When the fairy punishes the two sisters for their bad behavior, some readers see this extreme punishment as fair because those mean girls finally get what is coming to them.

Refute the opposition: But by imposing this punishment, the fairy misses a chance to promote sisterhood among all three of the girls. But if she has such powerful magic, that she can turn young women to stone, shouldn’t she be able to teach them to love each other instead?



This refutation includes a rhetorical question; it is not meant for you to answer, but to leave the reader thinking about your ideas. You are not required to pose your refutation as a question; this is just one way to write your refutation.



What do you do with a conclusion? Do not just restate your claim, even if you change some of the wording. That’s not worth your reader’s time. So what is worth your reader’s time?

  • A kind of wrap-up: What’s the point of this argument? What has been learned here and why does it matter? What do you want you and your reader to have learned or created together?
  • And why is this important? Does it apply to real life now? How?
  • Certainly the spirit of your claim will be here. But not just your claim reworded.
  • Your claim, but more complex and stronger
    • o Because you’ve just been feeding it and exercising it,
    • o So now it’s bigger and more interesting.
    • o So you should be able to talk it about it with greater complexity and authority. Don’t go crazy and add new ideas—remember you’re wrapping things up.
  • Confutation as Conclusion: You may be able to write a conclusion that includes confutation. Why might this be a useful strategy? Why might it be problematic?


Understanding the difference between claim and conclusion

  • the conclusion is similar to the claim
  • and yet more detailed and complete in meaning.
  • Notice the relationship between the CLAIM and the Conclusion in this example:




The story of “The Frog King, or Iron Henry” illustrates and even promotes the importance of consent in relationships.



In this way, the story highlights the importance of understanding and respecting the value of consent. This tale teaches readers to stand up for themselves and refuse to give in to situations that will clearly cause discomfort or danger.

Keep this guidance and these examples handy as you draft your essay, and remember that I’m happy to answer questions and review drafts within the time constraints announced in class.



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