reader-based prose

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Joyce Carol Oates
"My reputation for writing quickly and effortlessly notwithstanding, I am strongly in favor of intelligent, even fastidious revision, which is, or certainly should be, an art in itself" (American author Joyce Carol Oates). (Thos Robinson/Getty Images)


Reader-based prose is a kind of public writing: a text that is composed (or revised) with an audience in mind. Contrast with writer-based prose.

The concept of reader-based prose is part of a controversial social-cognitive theory of writing that was introduced by professor of rhetoric Linda Flower in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In "Writer-Based Prose: A Cognitive Basis for Problems in Writing" (1979), Flower defined reader-based prose as "a deliberate attempt to communicate something to a reader. To do that it creates a shared language and shared context between writer and reader."

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  • "The concept of egocentrism was much discussed in composition studies in the late 1970s. . . . By Flower's terminology, reader-based prose is more mature writing that meets the needs of the reader, and with the help of the instructor, students can turn their egocentric, writer-based prose into prose that is effective and reader-based."
    (Edith H. Babin and Kimberly Harrison, Contemporary Composition Studies: A Guide to Theorists and Terms. Greenwood, 1999)
  • "In reader-based prose, meaning is clearly specified: concepts are well articulated, referents are unambiguous, and relations among concepts are presented with some logical organization. The result is an autonomous text (Olson, 1977) that adequately imparts its meaning to the reader without relying on unstated knowledge or external context."
    (C.A. Perfetti and D. McCutchen, "Schooled Language Competence." Advances in Applied Linguistics: Reading, Writing, and Language Learning, ed. by Sheldon Rosenberg. Cambridge University Press, 1987)
  • "Since the 1980s, [Linda] Flower and [John R.] Hayes's cognitive-process research has influenced professional-communication textbooks, in which narrative is viewed as distinct from more complex types of thinking and writing--such as arguing or analyzing--and narrative continues to be situated as the developmental starting point."
    (Jane Perkins and Nancy Roundy Blyler, "Introduction: Taking a Narrative Turn in Professional Communication." Narrative and Professional Communication. Greenwood, 1999)
  • "Linda Flower has argued that the difficulty inexperienced writers have with writing can be understood as a difficulty in negotiating the transition between writer-based and reader-based prose. Expert writers, in other words, can better imagine how a reader will respond to a text and can transform or restructure what they have to say around a goal shared with a reader. Teaching students to revise for readers, then, will better prepare them to write initially with a reader in mind. The success of this pedagogy depends upon the degree to which a writer can imagine and conform to a reader's goals. The difficulty of this act of imagination, and the burden of such conformity, are so much at the heart of the problem that a teacher must pause and take stock before offering revision as a solution."
    (David Bartholomae, "Inventing the University." Perspectives on Literacy, ed. by Eugene R. Kintgen, Barry M. Kroll, and Mike Rose. Southern Illinois University Press, 1988)
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Nordquist, Richard. "reader-based prose." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). reader-based prose. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "reader-based prose." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).