Writer-Based Prose

When Writers Write for Themselves

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

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Writer-based prose is personal writing that follows a writer's thought process. A text written in this style is written from the writer's perspective to meet the writer's needs. For this reason, writer-based prose may fail to convey meaning to those reading it because a writer needs little elaboration to follow their own thoughts. Reader-based prose, on the other hand, is written for public consumption and intended to meet its audience's needs. This type of writing tends to be more explanatory and organized than writer-based prose.

The origin of writer-based prose can be traced to a controversial social-cognitive theory of writing introduced by professor of rhetoric Linda Flower in the late 1900s. In "Writer-Based Prose: A Cognitive Basis for Problems in Writing," 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." Essentially, writer-based prose shows a writer's thinking from beginning to end. The following examples and excerpts will elaborate on this and demonstrate what you can expect to find in writer-based prose.

Definition

You may have encountered writer-based prose before without knowing that's what you were reading. Identifying prose of this kind can be difficult, especially if you're unfamiliar with the mechanisms used to structure a piece of writing for its intended audience. The excerpt below from English Professor Virginia Skinner-Linnenberg defines this subset of composition more clearly.

"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," (Skinner-Linnenberg 1997).

Dos and Don'ts

In general, you probably don't want to create writer-based prose intentionally. Prose of this nature is not as effective at communicating ideas as prose written and optimized for reader consumption. Prose that is writer-based is a fine place to start when brainstorming composing, but most experts agree that reader-based prose is usually much stronger.

Cherryl Armstrong explains that writer-based prose is a natural place to start when drafting a piece of writing. She recommends leveraging the strategies you use to draft your ideas into prose that can serve both you and your readers. "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 a step further to transform the writing these strategies produce,'" (Armstrong 1986).

Linda Flower describes in more detail the careful steps one can take to shift their writing from writer- to reader-based during the drafting process. "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,"
(Flower 1994).

Writer and professor Peter Elbow acknowledges that there can be a time and place for writer-based prose and that it is possible to write effectively from your own viewpoint, but he cautions against neglecting to stay aware of your audience when choosing this approach. "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," (Elbow 2000).

Sources

  • Armstrong, Cherryl. "Reader-Based and Writer-Based Perspectives in Composition Instruction." Rhetoric Review, vol. 5, no. 1, 1986, pp. 84–89.
  • Elbow, Peter. Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Flower, Linda. The Construction of Negotiated Meaning: A Social Cognitive Theory of Writing. Southern Illinois University Press, 1994.
  • Flower, Linda. "Writer-Based Prose: A Cognitive Basis for Problems in Writing." College English, vol. 41, no. 1, Sep. 1979, pp. 19-37, doi:10.2307/376357
  • Skinner-Linnenberg, Virginia. Dramatizing Writing: Reincorporating Delivery in the Classroom. Routledge, 1997.
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Nordquist, Richard. "Writer-Based Prose." ThoughtCo, Mar. 14, 2021, thoughtco.com/writer-based-prose-1692510. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, March 14). 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 September 28, 2021).