Written Response: Respecting a prompt's source
Why responses need the answer sandwich structure?
In Step 1, I explained the importance of staying within a genre's structure. A prompted response usually calls for a tighter response structure (very little "wiggle room"). Using a structure scale, creative poetry would be on one end; a factual phone book on the other. While lyrics to music might be found on the poetry end, when I construct a response to my boss or a test-corrector, I need to dance their kind of dance, because I sure don’t want to step on their toes!
That’s why, when I construct a tightly structured boss-response or a right-answer test-response, I use the Answer Sandwich. Its steps offer me a dependable path that guides me from an introduction (top bun of the sandwich) to supportive facts with related evidence (sandwich middle layers), and lastly to a brief conclusion (bottom bun). Why does this structure work?
Why begin with an introduction?
An introduction tells the recipient where I’m headed. That is, it offers the main idea (the topic) of my response. And both busy bosses and test correctors hope we stick to their topic! The very best way to do that is to restate their prompt or question. Restatements almost force me to stay on the topic.
My introduction also offers my lead, the general idea of my evidence. So, it’s better to begin with: “I understand that sales are down this quarter, and my research suggests there are four reasons for this;” than it is to begin with only: “I understand that sales are down this quarter.” The first response commits me to evidence (my lead) and organizes my response toward that evidence–––for me (the writer) and for the reader.
Provide detailed information in middle of Better Answer Sandwich.
With my introduction pointing me in a specific direction, I now need to substantiate using factual evidence; in this case, the four reasons sales are down. So, I’ll list them, along with researched evidence that supports each one. If the reasons require a meaty explanation, I may construct an entire paragraph for each reason. But, if each can be explained in a sentence or two, I can place all the facts and evidence in one paragraph. The most important take-away for this layer: Just stick to the facts!
End with brief conclusion.
Both conclusion and concise begin with con–––a handy reminder not to con myself or the response’s recipient with a lengthy conclusion. Simply restating their question or prompt is often the best concluding statement, because it testifies that I have fulfilled their request.
For more about using this Better Answer structure to construct responses to open response test questions, see my recent article, "Preparing students for open response test questions" at this link.
For more on the Answer Sandwich and response writing, see my book, along with its CD (with everything you need to teach this structure, including lessons plans and PowerPoints): Better Answers: Written Performance That Looks Good and Sounds Smart, Stenhouse, 2010.