6 Writing the Critical Response Paragraph

The Critical Response Paragraph (CRP) is a short, one-paragraph mini-essay that requires you to write an argument about one aspect of the assigned reading. Often, book club discussions will help generate ideas for these essays, but you may also choose to write an individually generated response, with my prior approval. CRPs are graded on a 100-point scale.

In the CRP, you state your idea of one of the story’s meanings regarding real life (theme), and then you support that claim with evidence from the text and analysis of the evidence. Writing the CRP will require that you think critically about the texts we are reading and discussing in class.

The CRP must not simply summarize the text or evaluate whether or not you like the text. Instead, it must be a 7- to 10-sentence persuasive argument about how you interpret the text in the context of our class discussions about the stories and cultural expectations. Because it is a short argument, obviously it will be a partial argument. That is, a CRP generally only has space to present one piece of evidence, such as a quotation or paraphrase and your analysis to show how it supports your claim.

This work requires and helps you to think critically about the texts you read, and it is meant to help you create a short argument that can be expanded into a longer, more complex argument for the longer critical response essays (CREs), assigned later in the semester. So we do not work on one CRP on one story and then kick it to the curb and move on to something new right away. Instead, you will produce a number of CRPs from which you will choose two on which to base your two CREs (one at mid-term and one near the end of the semester).

The CRP has four required parts:

1) An argumentative topic sentence, also called a CLAIM. You may know this as a thesis statement. This claim must appear at or near the beginning of the paragraph.

2) Evidence in the form of quotations or paraphrases from the text about which you are writing, with the proper source information: author’s last name and page number, in parentheses. Because this is a short argument, I only expect you to work on one or two pieces of evidence, but you must choose them wisely as they will be the only support for argument.

3) Analysis and interpretation of your evidence to show how it supports your claim. Without this part, you will not have made a complete argument. Do not expect your reader (me, in this case) to do the work of analysis and interpretation for you.

4) A strong, worthwhile conclusion, not just a summary of the argument or repetition of the claim.

The following guidelines tell you more about each part of the CRP. Remember: do not write a plot summary. Engage the text and try to understand what it is attempting to say about real life.

1. The Argumentative Claim, written as a Topic Sentence

As a mini-essay, the CRP must include a topic sentence (usually the first sentence or two) that includes the following:

  • the author’s name and the title of the text you are engaging
  • your claim, which must state concisely what theme you will argue. Remember that THEME means what the story suggests about real life.

Creating a strong argumentative topic sentence is perhaps the most crucial step in writing a critical response paragraph.

Key Takeaways

A strong topic sentence expresses your claim and thereby gives you something to say; it helps ensure that the paragraph you write argues something that the story shows, illustrates, portrays, or dramatizes.


The most common mistakes students make when writing a critical response paragraph are to start with a weak topic sentence or to start with a topic sentence that is a statement of fact.

Key Takeaways

A weak topic sentence leads to an unfocused, rambling response, and a factual statement leads to plot summary; neither of those is a clear, persuasive argument.


If, after writing your paragraph, you find that many of your sentences say the same thing or that you have actually summarized all or part of a text, then you probably have not created a strong topic sentence.


Weak topic sentence: In “Beauty and the Beast,” the Beauty’s sisters clearly do not like her.


What do you think is a reader’s response to that introductory sentence? “So what?” “Isn’t that obvious?” Yes, it is obvious. It is a statement of fact that leaves no room for interpretation or analysis, and it makes no argument. This kind of topic sentence leads to plot summary of the text. There is nothing to prove.

Instead, ask yourself what is the point of a story in which two sisters dislike the third sister? WHY do they dislike her, and what does that mean if we want to apply the story to real life (which we do)?

To identify possible meanings, let’s give this a little more thought. WHY do the elder sisters dislike Beauty? Isn’t she obviously more beautiful than they are? Do they want her out of the way so that they can shine more brightly? Aren’t they unhappy with their husbands, so maybe they want to look for new husbands? Might Beauty’s presence interfere with that search for new husbands? If the answers are “yes,” what might that mean for the real lives of real young women in general—outside the story?

Here’s one possibility: maybe the writer sees the story as an example of how young women may be divided from each other because they find themselves competing with each other for husbands/partners. From that idea, we might begin to write a better claim::


In Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast,” the rivalry between Beauty and her sisters may illustrate . . .


Notice that this beginning of a claim takes the original idea that the sisters dislike Beauty and turns it into an argument about something the story shows us. Finish the claim by making that something about real life, about the cultural expectation to get married and what it might do to young women and their relationships with each other.


In Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast,” the rivalry between Beauty and her sisters may illustrate how the cultural demand to get married prevents young women from building healthy relationships with each other.


This is a strong claim because it makes a statement that can be argued.

There are various ways in which to proceed with the argument, but remember that in a CRP, you are only required to argue the claim based on one point of textual evidence which you analyze and explain to show how it supports your claim.

  • You could argue about the sisters’ early envy of Beauty and how they fear that Beauty will steal the spotlight from them and then they’ll end up with less-than-satisfactory husbands.
  • Or you could argue about the sisters’ dislike of Beauty later because they have in fact married unsatisfactory husbands and they don’t want to see Beauty do better than they have in choosing a husband.
  • You could even argue how the story suggests that the pressure to marry may lead women (like the sisters) to accept unsuitable partners.

All three possible arguments might be written so as to support the example claim, above. But you must be sure to relate the textual details to the claim’s point about real life. That is, you must say explicitly HOW these points in the story tell us something about the problems of marriage for real-life young women.

2. The Argument: Evidence and Interpretation; Optional Confutation

Now that you have created a strong argumentative topic sentence, how do you prove your argument? Much as an attorney in a court of law does, you must present evidence and analyze it to show precisely how it supports your claim.

Quotations and paraphrases from the text, plus your analysis and interpretations, supply the evidence you need to support your argument. You may want to go through the text and mark or write down passages that illustrate what you are trying to prove. From these passages, choose one or two that most clearly support your argument. There may be more, but in a 7-10 sentence paragraph, you do not have the space to incorporate all of them, so choose the strongest one, or two at the most.

However, simply filling your paragraph with quotation and paraphrase does nothing to prove your argument. When you use a quote or a paraphrase, you must do the following:

  1. Key Takeaways

    Introduce it. Say something about where/when it occurs in the story and, if it is dialogue, identify the speaker.


  2. Key Takeaways

    Incorporate it accurately into one of your sentences. Include an accurate parenthetical reference that provides the author’s last name and page number(s).


  3. Key Takeaways

    Interpret or explain the evidence in relation to your argument; evidence does not stand alone as proof.


    Unclear Evidence: Beauty’s sisters dislike her, but they turn positively dangerous when they try to keep Beauty from the Beast. “‘Let’s try to keep Beauty here for more than a week. Her stupid beast will get angry . . . and maybe he’ll eat her up’” (48)

This example does use an interesting passage from the text with an appropriate introductory comment. However, the passage is not connected to the introductory sentence in any way, so it isn’t clear how the sentence and the quotation are related. To make this point a better use of evidence, do the following:

  1. CONNECT the introductory phrase to the quotation with your words or punctuation.


Beauty’s sisters dislike her, but they become positively dangerous when they try to keep Beauty from the Beast: “‘Let’s try to keep Beauty here for more than a week. Her stupid beast will get angry . . . and maybe he’ll eat her up’” (48).


  1. INTERPRET the quotation to show your reader how it supports your claim.


The sisters may be trying to get rid of Beauty as competition for eligible men, especially since both sisters are so unhappy with their husbands (47). With Beauty out of the way, they may feel they will have a better chance at finding better partners.


This way, you, as the writer, tell your reader the meaning of the quotation as you see it. Notice how you can add a little interpretation in the same sentence: especially since both sisters are so unhappy with their husbands.

So you’re saying, in effect, that the sisters intend to clear the competition—Beauty—from the playing field because they may soon be looking for new husbands and they don’t want Beauty around to grab all the attention.


TRY THIS: If you are not sure how to analyze your evidence, try using a “because” statement.

For example: This quotation shows that Beauty’s sisters are dangerous because [now tell me specifically how the quotation shows this danger]. 

Making this kind of move–properly introducing your evidence and then interpreting it–should make up most of your paragraph.

3. Optional: Confutation

Confutation means presenting some opposing idea that might challenge or disprove your argument, and then refuting or dealing with that opposing idea in some way that tends to weaken its challenge to your claim. The goal is to strengthen your argument by showing how weak the opposition is.

Confutation is optional in CRPs. So why would you want to include it in your CRP if it’s not required? Two reasons:

  1. You can earn extra points if your confutation is properly done.
  2. Confutation will be required in your longer essay (CRE1 and CRE2), so it’s not a bad idea to practice confutation in your CRPs so you’ll be prepared to write better confutations when it’s time to write your CREs.

However, the choice whether to include confutation in your CRPs is ultimately yours. You won’t lose any points for not including it.


Confutation Example:

Some readers may argue that the sisters have good reason to dislike Beauty, since they have been living in her shadow for most of their lives. But Beauty should not be blamed because others see her as beautiful. On the contrary, she does her best to be kind to her sisters, but they resent and reject her kindness. [Include some evidence here regarding Beauty’s kindness and the sisters’ resentment.]

SO, now that you’ve produced an arguable claim, provided evidence from the text and analysis to show how it supports your claim, and possibly added confutation, it’s time to wrap up your argument with a brief concluding sentence or two.

4. Concluding Statement

Don’t allow your paragraph to just fade out at the end or to stop abruptly after you’ve proven your argument. You’ve stated your claim, supplied evidence to support it, and interpreted the evidence, and possibly refuted a point of opposition. Now, end your paragraph with a brief but strong conclusion (one or two sentences) that identifies how your argument is important in some way and makes your reader feel that reading your argument has been worthwhile.


In this way, “Beauty and the Beast” illustrates women’s competition for marriageable men and warns young women against such competition and the cruelty it may cause.


Notice that this statement is somewhat like the argument’s claim, but it says more now, in the light of what you’ve argued. And it says something about real people in real life, not just the characters in the story. This is what it takes to write an argument and a useful conclusion—linking your argument to real life and what the story suggests about it.


Try this: If you are having trouble writing a useful conclusion, try using confutation as your conclusion. Write a confutation that relates to your claim and use that to conclude your argument. See the example below.


Though some readers may think the sisters are justified in their dislike of Beauty, their deep hostility, which has been building throughout the story, illustrates the dangers that can result from cultural expectations that encourage women to compete with one another for the attentions of men.

Notice how this conclusion provides both confutation AND a reminder of the initial CLAIM and how your argument has supported it.

5. Works Cited

See the chapter titled “Citing Your Sources”

6. Some ADDITIONAL Things to Keep in Mind

Book Club Discussions and Claims

Book Club Discussions are meant to help you produce possible claims in a group discussion setting. I provide feedback on these claims in class which is meant to help you further improve the claim so it can be used for your CRPs. Many instructors provide a list of questions as critical response paragraph topics. Generally, if you can write an argumentative response to the prompt in one or two sentences, you’ve created a claim.


Most critical response paragraphs are between 7 and 10 sentences in length. Any shorter and you probably have not argued your point persuasively; any longer and you probably have lost focus and drifted outside the scope of your argument.


Format your paragraph using MLA format, which is the format shown in the CRP Example.

Parenthetical Documentation

Always document the page number(s) you quote or paraphrase using MLA parenthetical documentation style. Your instructor may not require a works cited page, but most instructors do want to know from where the material is taken and that you can demonstrate proper documentation technique. Not documenting your sources risks plagiarism.

The “So what?” Test

Your topic sentence and your paragraph should be able to pass the “So what?” test. In this case, the question “So what?” is meant to remind you that we are reading the story to figure out what it says about real people in real life. When you’re thinking of what to argue about the story, remember that stories mean to push you around, to make you think and feel certain things. What are those things, and how can you build an argument about one of them? If you can’t provide an answer, you may want to re-read the story with the connection to real life in mind.

Proofreading and Editing

Always proofread, edit, and revise. Silly mistakes, awkward sentences, and poor grammar detract from the authority you are trying to create to prove your argument. They will also cost you points on your grade; but you can easily avoid losing these points with careful proofreading. Two very good ideas to help you revise your paragraph are to read it out loud to yourself and to have someone else, such as the Writing Lab, proofread it with you and help you improve it.


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