The Reader Project offers Duke students the opportunity to get feedback on a class writing project from someone outside the classroom setting who has professional experience relevant to their project.

If you sign up for the project, you can become a better writer by getting feedback on your work-in-progress from a seasoned professional who has experience as a reader of the kind of paper you are writing. We often have difficulty imagining how readers beyond the classroom environment will react to their written work. Your Reader Project volunteer will help you learn to anticipate the needs and expectations of readers generally—one of the most important skills for a successful writer, no matter what field you pursue. Additionally, you’ll likely find that having an interested and experienced reader from outside the class is a great source of motivation.

Who volunteers?

Our current pool of volunteers includes an impressive collection of professionals from a wide range of fields and experiences—both Duke Alumni and current Duke employees. Here’s a sample:

  • 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 Duke’s 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.
  • Students taking an American business history course got to work with the executive editor of CIO Magazine, a lawyer specializing in employment litigation, a freelance journalist specializing in business stories, and a lawyer specializing in banking and other financial services.
  • In an economics course on international trade and development, one 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; another student in the course worked with the World Bank’s country program coordinator for Vietnam. See more examples of readers.

How does it work?

Once you officially enroll in the Reader Project, you’ll be matched with a volunteer who has experience related to your project. Although it varies according to course, you will likely have three main interactions with your reader:

  1. Soon after you are matched with a volunteer, you’ll host an introductory meeting where you and your reader get to know each other and discuss your writing assignment. You will have a chance to ask your reader questions to help you get a sense of the audience for your paper, while your reader will get to ask you about your writing project.
  2. Once you have a coherent draft of the paper, you will e-mail the draft to your reader who will provide feedback from their perspective as someone who has experience in the field. This feedback will probably be written comments, followed by an in person meeting if possible. You’ll find out what the reader understands and what she doesn’t; what she finds interesting, and where she’s bored; what she finds convincing and where she’s skeptical.
  3. (Optional but highly recommended) Once you’ve revised the paper you’ll have a follow-up meeting to discuss the revised draft. This will help you find out what’s working better in the new version and where the reader is still struggling. You’ll use what you learn here to produce the final draft.

If your reader lives nearby, you may have your meetings face to face. If not, you’ll meet by webcam or phone.

What’s expected of you?

Your total interaction with your reader will be about three hours over the course of the semester.  You won’t be doing much that isn’t required for the course anyway. If you sign up for the project, we ask that you be responsible, professional, and respectful in your interactions with your reader. And, at the end of the semester, we will ask you to complete a survey about your experience that should take no more than 5 minutes.

At the beginning of the semester, you should check our page for your course and note the dates listed for your interactions with your reader.  We expect that you will be proactive in communicating with your reader all along the way. The Program Coordinator will send reminders, but you are chiefly responsible for initiating the interactions with your reader, corresponding in a professional and timely manner, and sending revisions to your reader. Also, many readers enjoy hearing your reaction to their feedback. We suggest you send regular updates on the status of your draft and how the reader’s comments have helped you. You will be expected to send a final draft of your paper to the reader at the end of the process.

We know that unforeseen circumstances arise, but you will need to be in contact with your partner so he or she does not wonder what happened to you. If you have any problem contacting your partner, or if you haven’t gotten a response in the time you think you should have, please contact us right away so we can figure out what’s going on. The longer you wait, the harder it is to get the process back on track.

Be proactive.  Talk to your reader about the nature of your writing task, the timeline for the assignment, and the kinds of feedback you would like, and figure out the kind of interactions that will work best for both of you. Find out if your reader has time to respond to questions you have about your work-in-progress between drafts.

Finally, you must take ownership for all decisions related to your paper. No matter who your reader is, it is essential that you see this person as one source of useful feedback, not the final authority. Give your reader’s comments serious consideration, but make your own decisions. If you are unsure about whether a particular comment or bit of advice is on target for your particular paper, check with your instructor.

And finally, at the end of the semester you will be sent a post-survey to fill out. These typically only take about 15 minutes to answer but are invaluable to the Reader Project, in order to gauge how well the experience went for each student who participated and the how the classes participating went as a whole. We know once a semester is over, student’s are on to the next task, but please fill out your post survey in a timely manner once it’s received so that we won’t need to continue reminding you to do so.