Reading as a Common Reader



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Peer Revision E. Sprague 4/30/18

Reading as a Common Reader


When you read as a common reader, you track your reading experience: Are you interested? Bored? Confused? Engaged? Are you satisfied, even inspired, by your reading? It's important when reading an essay to keep in touch with your responses as a common reader; these responses will point you in the direction of a paper's strengths and weaknesses. If you're confused, it's likely that the sentences or paragraphs have broken down; if you're moved, it's likely that the writer has written clearly and forcefully.

When you read as a common reader, make note not only of WHAT you're feeling, but WHERE you're feeling it. Then consider WHY. Reading in this way helps you to pinpoint the precise moment that a paper has gone awry. It also helps you to frame a response to the text that the student can relate to. Telling your students that you are confused by a certain paragraph or transition helps them to feel that a real, flesh-and-blood reader sits at the other end of their writing processes. They'll respond more authentically to a declaration of confusion than they will to remarks that are corrective.

Finally, keeping in touch with your "common reader" responses makes you less likely to jump too soon to criticism. Instead of looking at every word and turn of phrase to try to find what's wrong, you can allow the language and ideas of the paper to make their impression on you. Common readers are receptive to the writer's message. They suspend their disbelief, waiting until the end of the essay before they make up their minds. Keep close to your common reader responses; they will inform the more critical responses that you make later on.

Reading to Get to Know the Writer


When you read a paper, you will need to give some of your attention to thinking about who the writer is. After all, you are working with an individual person, not simply with an individual paper. The paper can give you a wealth of information, from which you can infer what is going on with the writer. As you read, ask yourself:

  • What is the writer's explicit purpose?

  • What hidden assumptions or prejudices are implicit in the paper?

  • What stance does the writer seem to be taking towards his audience?

  • What stance does the writer seem to be taking towards his content?

  • What does the writer understand (or misunderstand) about academic writing?

  • What does the writer understand (or misunderstand) about academic research?

These questions can prove very valuable. For example, consider the writer's explicit purpose—that is, the purpose that he declares in his thesis. Then consider whether or not the writer has another agenda—other purposes or assumptions that he never quite declares. Often the writer's hidden assumptions about his topic—or about the writing process itself—can undermine an essay. Be sensitive not only to what's on the page, but also to what's been left off.

Gocsik, Karen. “Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing.” Dartmouth College Writing Center . 18 Dec 2007. 17 Jan 2007.

Track your reading experience –


Are you . . .

Where?

Why?

. . . interested?







. . . bored?







. . . confused?







. . . engaged?







. . . satisfied, even inspired?







What is the writer’s explicit purpose? What is the writer saying on the page? Try to summarize.


What hidden assumptions or prejudices are implicit in the paper?


What stance does the writer seem to be taking towards his or her audience?




What stance does the writer seem to be taking towards his or her content?

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