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Starting a Consultation

From the very beginning of the consultation, you want to connect with the student writer; he should see you as a friend and mentor, a guide and resource. He should not see you as the authority who already knows what issues you should discuss, what the professor expects, and so on. The consultation properly belongs to the student; he should set the agenda.

To this end, begin by simultaneously setting the student at ease and putting her in charge. Introduce yourself, ask her name, and ask her to tell you in general terms about the assignment, the paper, where she is in the process of writing, and so on. Encourage her to talk, rather than dominating the conversation yourself. Be sure to sit side by side and make direct eye contact. Get the student talking – you’ll gather valuable data about the assignment and the professor’s expectations, which will help guide your reading of the draft; you’ll also gather an essential sense of who the student is, what she thinks of this piece of writing (and her writing abilities more general), and so on. When you turn to the draft, this information will make your reading more efficient and the early stages of the consultation more productive. Most importantly, starting with questions tells the student that the writing – and hence the consultation – is hers. You are not there to “fix” her paper, but as an experienced reader and fellow writer who can help her improve.

It’s important to start with the assignment: not only does this help you understand what the student is trying to accomplish with the particular paper, but it also immediately puts him in the position of expert — after all, you aren’t in the class!

You may meet with the shy or reticent students who are reluctant to talk about themselves, the assignment, their paper, and so on. On such occasions, patiently try to draw them out. Such reticence can sometimes be a result of extraordinary frustration with the writing process, and giving students a chance to vent can sometimes be a productive place to begin.