One distinction between student writers and professional writers is how the writer regards and relates to the reader. In Composition field, there’s been considerable exploration about “reader-based” vs “writer-based prose.” Here, researchers[1] have identified “writer-based prose” as work 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 meta-cognition into the writing process.


As you move through your program, however, you might find faculty assigning new purposes to the assignments. For example, what was an “annotated bibliography” with personal summaries of the resources now become annotated bibliographies 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.  I’m going to call for writers of final manuscripts, whether they are formal papers or theses/dissertations, to consider that awareness of your reader as paramount to your success. Here, I’ll focus on the dissertation (or thesis).


The dissertation is a unique academic manuscript that pushes the writer to recognize the multiple readers or audience. 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 is published. To be successful, the writer needs to have a sophisticated sense of writing for this scholarly audience. The dissertation, as a result, becomes the artifact of successful entrance into the scholarly field.


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.




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