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An Active Reader Is a Better Writer

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By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor

I too am guilty of publicly making the promise that after I complete this or that degree, I am finally going to sit down and do some personal reading. The transgression of denying one's self the pleasure of a good novel or a couple of hours browsing the articles in a favorite magazine or reading aloud some poetry to the dog is one that many students feel is necessary. This is not true. The more one reads the better writer he or she will likely become.

Reading, even something that is not from a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal, can be a reminder of what good writing looks and sounds like. An active reader is one who will also become intimate with the process of writing and be able to recognize when something is good, regardless of the topic or venue. Although fiction writers are considering a different audience, just like academic writers, they want to maintain their readers’ attention and convey a particular message.

Active readers serve as an audience and thereby become aware of the needs of an audience. This awareness makes them better writers. People writing in diaries write for themselves. When composing something as intimate as a letter, writers are acutely aware of their singular audience. Bloggers can track the reading patterns and waxing and waning interests of their audience. Academic writers too know their audience. At first, it is a committee, then the longer list of university approvers, and finally the academic community and future researchers. If meticulous writers are also meticulous readers, they will have an improved awareness and concern for their audience.

Active readers know what has already been written, what was written well, and what requires additional attention. One edition of the APA Publication Manual has a section on the repository that is the scientific journal. This section includes the caveat that a familiarity with the literature allows not only for insight and an ability to avoid repetition, but also an opportunity to contribute something new. The same joy that is felt when a reader discovers a new writer or a new piece by an already favorite writer can be felt by a reader who also contributes something new to the body of academic literature.

Reading can be a source of inspiration, even when reading something that has not been assigned in a class, something that was not retrieved from a library database, or something that is outside of the prescribed social science reading list. A fiction writer may use an old word in a new way or imagine some bit of science fiction that later becomes a tool in the classroom. The ability of someone to capture a feeling in prose or perfectly describe a feeling on the page is proof that words can captivate and motivate. There is no reason to believe that an academic paper cannot be a page turner in the same way as a mystery novel.

Too many things are already sacrificed in the name of school. Time becomes a premium. Leisure is lost. Vacations are postponed. Money is spent. The pleasure of reading has no place on that list. Pick up a book. Buy one or go to the library. Before sitting down to compose a single word of a single draft, read a page or two of fiction. Look at the girth of a hefty novel and know that this writer too, just like the academic writer, conducted research, wrote multiple drafts, shed tears when an editor shredded it, bounced back to create an even better draft, and one day finished the work.

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