Dear Instructors,

We are glad you are here. You are probably wondering:





What is the Duke Reader Project and how will it benefit my students?

Students often have difficulty imagining how readers will react to their written work since they rarely hear from someone actually trying to make use of what they’ve written. This is understandable. The Duke Reader Project can play a part in enabling students to move beyond considering their writing as something that needs to satisfy purely the instructor’s requirements to recognizing their text a something with wider application to experts outside the classroom by pairing seasoned professionals with our students.

The Duke Reader Project is an opportunity unique to Duke. Our mission is to help students learn to understand, anticipate, and ideally fulfill the expectations of a genuine reader. To that end, we pair students with alumni/ae with professional expertise. These volunteer readers bring subject knowledge and writing expertise and work with students to improve their writing. By taking students’ written work seriously and providing thoughtful feedback our volunteers give students a sense of what an intentional reader needs from a text. The Duke Reader Project staff guide students and readers through the series of interactions and coordinate the timing of these interactions with the course instructors. Duke Alumni Affairs supports us in finding interested alumni with appropriate backgrounds.

Our readers are a diverse group of professionals across a multitude of fields, either Duke alumni/ae or staff, who bring the content area expertise and genre knowledge necessary to engage deeply with a student’s text. Not being part of the apparatus of the classroom allows the reader an unencumbered perspective on the text. Volunteer readers provide authentic and constructive feedback, gentle guidance in the form of dialogic interactions, and encouragement to their students.

We have also found that working with an interested and respected professional outside the classroom is a great source of motivation for students. And all of this within the temporal constraints of the semester.

If students are also struggling with the mechanics of writing (grammar, syntax, orthography, etc) we recommend they make an appointment with the Writing Studio, as our readers are not copy-editors or writing consultants.

What do I need to do to participate?

The Duke Reader Project is a voluntary opportunity. If you chose to offer it to your students, please get in touch with us by emailing the coordinator and indicating your interest. Should this be your first time, we will schedule a meeting to talk about the writing your students will do, define appropriate readers, discuss matching process, and establish a timeline for student-reader interactions. We welcome your input in choosing readers but by no means require it.

We suggest three live interactions between the student and the reader. The first one is an introductory meeting where the pair gets to know each other and the student conveys information about their course and their assignment. The second interaction will be based on a first draft. The student emails a draft of their paper to the reader. The reader responds with comments and then reader and student meet live to engage in a substantive conversation about the feedback. This is repeated with the penultimate draft. Ideally, readers give feedback before you lay eyes on the writing. Readers are encouraged to give written comments on substantial drafts, but may also use a kind of oral feedback called a “think-aloud response.” See examples of feedback here.

Once the semester begins, we will visit your course to give students information about the Project and invite them to sign up. Because of your perspective on student projects, we welcome your opinion on student-reader matches. There will be little more for instructors to do related to the Reader Project during the semester, aside from helping remind students to keep up with their commitment. When the term is over, instructors will be asked to give feedback.

Nota bene: You are always the final authority in your course. The Duke Reader Project is not only intended to help students improve their papers, but also to encourage them to negotiate between multiple perspectives and find their own voice.

Who volunteers to be a reader?

We currently have over 400 active readers who are alumni/ae, Duke staff, and non-teaching faculty in our volunteer pool, and the list is growing.  Here’s a sample:

Alums: Students taking an American business history course got to work with a lawyer specializing in immigration, labor and employment litigation, the executive editor of CIO Magazine, a freelance journalist specializing in business, and a lawyer specializing in banking and other financial services. In an economics course on international trade and development, a student writing a paper on former USSR countries got feedback from an alum who helped form businesses in the former Soviet Union and served as chief of mission for the International City/County Management Association office in Kazakhstan, while another student in the course worked with the World Bank’s country program coordinator for Vietnam.

Duke staff and non-teaching faculty: Students in a first-year writing class taking up current issues in diet and nutrition science got feedback on their papers from the Director of the Rice Diet Center, the Director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, and the Associate Director of Graduate Medical Education, among others. Students in a computer science course got comments on a draft of a programmer’s manual from OIT’s Director of Interactive Teaching Resources, the computer support specialist for the Academic Advising Center, and an Associate Dean for Information Technology.

Is there a resource instructors can use?

Yes! The Writing In the Disciplines Program (WID)

Writing pedagogy workshops: Fall 2020: WID Workshop Calendar.

The primary aim of the WID program is to support our faculty in all aspects of their work with student writing, from consulting on assignment design or developing a new W-coded course to offering workshops on giving feedback and grading.

Some questions to consider when constructing a writing assignment are:

  • What are the expectations? One of the most effective ways to help students is to tell them exactly what we expect. We often have a certain kind of product in mind when we give students an assignment, but we should not assume they will always interpret general instructions (“Write an essay on…” or “Do a case study of…”) in the ways we intend. And since we are immersed in our discipline we sometimes forget that for students–especially those new to the field–disciplinary norms and expectations are unknown or unclear.
  • What is the genre? We sometimes assign students to do a kind of work that they have never seen or studied. Providing them with successful examples–and explaining what makes them successful–can help your students understand the parameters of the genre and successfully write to fulfill the needs of the genre.
  • Who is the intended audience? Are you expecting students to write explicitly for you (with your expertise and command of the material), or for some other reader (an individual such as a business manager or museum curator, the public audience of a scholarly journal, etc.)? If it is the latter, what should students understand about that reader’s relationship to the course material, ideas and terms?

What to do when I want more information? Email Cary Moskovitz, the director of the WID Program.