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As the first week of classes went by, many of my professors tried to emphasize how their class were not as difficult as advertised.  They gave the standard “if you keep up with the readings” and “come to lecture and section and you will do well in this class” spiel.  Moreover, they highlighted how when you average everything out, there really isn’t that much work;  one midterm, one final, and a few short response assignments.  I hate those short response assignments.  It is hard to find the right balance of brevity and substance.  Here are some things I’ve learned about these one page short responses.

Keep them short
I took an Asian American Studies course a few semesters ago and was assigned a one page response paper for every book we read in class.   Exactly one page.  The GSI was quite explicit; she would only read one page.  Another GSI told me that to make sure he got assignments back on time, he allowed himself 3 minutes for each paper.  So keep it short because everything else is extra.

Narrow the Focus
These papers are not essays and shouldn’t be treated as such.  Focus on a specific incident, character, or even quote (see next) to root your paper in something tangible.  The paper needs to be focused because it has to be brief but substantive.

Use Quotes
Quotes show that you’ve at least opened the book to look in it which is basically the point of these little assignments (besides teaching you how to write).  Quotes provide substance for you to write about and analyze without having to rely on inordinate amounts of context and explanation.

Have Depth
Here’s one formula for success given to me by a GSI.  Start with something you find interesting.  The next level is to ask a question about it.  The third level is to answer your own question with your own analysis.  This makes a good short response.  Don’t stop at the first level, dig deeper.

Photo courtesy of Vinni123 via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).