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Trying to write a report for my work, I know that if I reconstructed this sentence it would be "were", but with the way it is written now, which way would be right?

  1. There was a total of 652 responses in the box.

OR

  1. There were a total of 652 responses in the box.
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There was a total of 652 responses in the box.

This is correct, because a "total" is a singular entity, not a plural one. Your second example would be correct as so:

There were 652 responses in the box (in total).

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