Academics recognize a salient difference between student writers and professional writers is how the writer regards and relates to the reader. In fact, there’s been considerable exploration about “reader-based” vs “writer-based prose.” Ever since Linda Flower ( 1981)  presented her research, the composition field has identified “writer-based prose” to define the type of writing in which the writer focuses on themselves as learners and readers of their work. Much of the coursework at AU (such as critical reflections or article responses) consciously integrates this “writer-based prose” and meta-cognition into the writing process.

As you move through your program, however, you most probably find assignments having new purposes. For example, what was an “annotated bibliography” with personal explanations of one’s use of resources now become annotated bibliographies written with another researcher in mind. “Reader-based prose” very intentionally redirects the focus from the writer to the reader. Either approach affects all elements of the writing, including word choice, topics, and style.  When you’re writing a final manuscript, whether they are formal papers, projects or theses/dissertations, your success will depend on your awareness of your reader. Here, I’ll focus on the dissertation (or thesis) to illustrate this.

The dissertation/thesis is a unique academic manuscript that pushes the writer to recognize the multiple readers or audiences. There are the obvious readers of the dissertation chair and committee members, but there are also other researchers in that discourse community once the dissertation/thesis is published. To be successful, the writer needs to have a sophisticated sense of writing for this scholarly audience.

The dissertation/thesis, as a result, becomes the artifact of successful entrance into the scholarly field because you’ve engaged in a comprehensive presentation of your research, its methodologies, and its findings. Your success is measured in how you’re able to articulate and explain material for your reader. As a “budding expert,” your reader expects this of you. And thus your writing dramatically changes with a conscious engagement of reader-based prose. This writing for the reader is achieved through explaining  the context of the research, introducing the study and its purpose, formulating a research study,  interpreting and analyzing data,  assessing the value of the methodologies, and recommending future exploration.

As you move through the writing of your dissertation, begin to realize how you transition from learner (writer-based prose) to professional (reader-based prose). From the proposal to the final draft, you should see a change in the style and stance in the writing. Ultimately, I think you’ll find yourself impressed by how you begin to embody a more professional writing style with the audience in mind. And of course, WEX coaches are available to guide you in this journey.

[1] Flower, L. (1981). A cognitive process theory of writing. College Composition and    Communication, 365-387.


Check out Bloom’s Taxonomy for further exploration into the writing process!