Writer-Based Prose

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

writer-based prose
According to Linda Flower, writer-based prose is a good starting point for teaching more demanding, audience-oriented types of writing. (Hero Images/Getty Images)

Writer-based prose is a kind of private or personal writing: a text that is composed for oneself. Contrast with reader-based prose.

The concept of writer-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 the concept as "verbal expression written by a writer to himself and for himself. It is the working of his own verbal thought. In its structure, writer-based prose reflects the associative, narrative path of the writer's own confrontation with her subject."

See the observations below. Also see:


  • "Beginning writers often find it difficult to distinguish between public and private writing, or what Linda Flower calls 'writer based' and 'reader based' prose. That is, writer-based prose is a 'verbal expression.' written by, to, and for the writer, that reflects the associative action of the mind when verbally relating a topic. Such prose is typified by many references to the self, is loaded with code words (those known only to the writer), and is usually in a linear format. Reader-based prose, on the other hand, deliberately attempts to address an audience other than the self. It defines coded terms, refers less to the writer, and is structured around the topic. In its language and structure, reader-based prose reflects the purpose of the writer's thought, rather than its process as in writer-based prose."
    (Virginia Skinner-Linnenberg, Dramatizing Writing: Reincorporating Delivery in the Classroom. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997)
  • "Writer-based prose (as it is usually defined) appears in all skilled writers' journal entries, in the notes good writers make prior to composing an essay, and in early drafts of writing that in final form will be reader based. 'Everyone uses the strategies of writer-based prose,' says Flower, and 'good writers go step further to transform the writing these strategies produce.'"
    (Cherryl Armstrong, "Reader-Based and Writer-Based Perspectives in Composition Instruction." Rhetoric Review, Fall 1986)
  • "Knowledge-driven planning . . . accounts for 'writer-based' prose with its narrative or descriptive structure and focus on the writer thinking out loud to herself. For difficult tasks, knowledge-driven planning and a writer-based first draft may be a first step toward a reader-based text revised in the afterlight of a more rhetorical plan."
    (Linda Flower, The Construction of Negotiated Meaning: A Social Cognitive Theory of Writing. Southern Illinois University Press, 1994)
  • "To celebrate writer-based prose is to risk the charge of romanticism: just warbling one's woodnotes wild. But my position also contains the austere classic view that we must nevertheless revise with conscious awareness of audience in order to figure out which pieces of writer-based prose are good as they are--and how to discard or revise the rest.
    "To point out that writer-based prose can be better for readers than reader-based prose is to reveal problems in these two terms. Does writer-based mean:
    1. That the text doesn't work for readers because it is too much oriented to the writer's point of view?
    2. Or that the writer was not thinking about readers as she wrote--although the text may work for readers?
    (Peter Elbow, Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching. Oxford University Press, 2000)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Writer-Based Prose." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/writer-based-prose-1692510. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Writer-Based Prose. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/writer-based-prose-1692510 Nordquist, Richard. "Writer-Based Prose." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/writer-based-prose-1692510 (accessed March 5, 2021).