faculty member in front of class

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.

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 come from across a multitude of fields and bring the content area expertise and genre knowledge necessary to engage deeply with a student’s text.

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.

How do I 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 at and indicating your interest. Should this be your first time, we will schedule a meeting to talk about the writing assignment, 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 where 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.

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. But it is not required. 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 intended to help students improve their papers and to encourage them to negotiate between multiple perspectives in order to find their own voice.

Who volunteers to be a reader?

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

American business history course: students 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.

First-year writing class taking up current issues in diet and nutrition science: students 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)

Current writing pedagogy workshops

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.

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