Fictionalizing the Readers of Scholarly Articles in Biology

Gay Gragson, Jack Selzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Is “the writer's audience always a fiction,” as Walter Ong contends, even when the writing is not poetry or fiction but scientific prose? To demonstrate the usefulness of Ong's approach to audience for analysts of nonfiction prose and for those who wish to empower student writers, we consider from a reader-response perspective two scientific articles on the same general topic written for the same discourse community in the same year. The authors of the two essays (prestigious scientists) directed their readers into two radically different roles. One makes his readers not only into “conventional” scientists but into willing novices who take note of his presentation but who do not take issue with it; the other creates disciplinary nonconformists, inquistive skeptics who have the perspectives necessary to understand the limits of scientific thought. The analysis elaborates the rhetorical nature of scientific discourse, demonstrates that even within the constraints of the journal article scientists have considerable freedom to exercise choices, and explicates how writersuse cues to direct readers into fictional roles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-58
Number of pages34
JournalWritten Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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