What Is Reader-Response Theory?

Reader-response theory is a type of theory in which the readers’ feedback or reaction to the text is vital to the interpretation of it. According to the Poetry Foundation, this theory considers the text as having no meaning until the reader reads it and experiences it.

The idea of reader-response theory goes back to the late 1930s where its beginnings are traced to Louise Rosenblatt. This theory is also generally connected to poststructuralism, a belief that meaning is not definite and that the reader’s interpretation of a text is more important than the author’s intended meaning. The Writing Lab at Purdue University explains that the reader forms meanings about the text through different lenses that are grounded in the reader’s cultural background.

The Annenberg Learner website adds that this theory contributes to a dynamic way of teaching that encourages students to explore and synthesize texts, helping them to develop creativity and comprehension skills that go beyond trying to simply find the correct answer. The ability to compile a wide variety of student responses to the same text also helps the students feel like they have an important role in judging what they read and in understanding that their responses are valid.