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Basic Guidelines for Consultations on Drafts

1. Gather information (5 minutes)

Before setting an agenda, you need to get some basic information:

  • the assignment
  • any comments the student has received from his professor
  • the amount of time the student can devote to revision

(see also Starting a Consultation.)


2. Negotiate an agenda (5 minutes)

In order to read the text in ways most useful to the writer, you need to narrow the range of possible help to two or three most likely issues. Ask the student what he or she wants you to read for. As the consultation proceeds, you will renegotiate this agenda as other issues arise, keeping the student’s concerns in mind and also teaching him or her how to talk about writing and the writing process.


3. Assess the text (5-15 minutes)

As you begin to read the essay, involve the student in the process, perhaps by asking him or her to read another copy and mark it, focusing on the issues you’ve put on your agenda. You might, for instance, ask a student to identify sentences of argument and begin to work with those that are unclear or need development, or you might ask the student to sum up the main point of each paragraph in a sentence in the margin. Involving the student will make the time you spend reading more productive for him or her.


4. Work together on the text (20-25 minutes)

In 25 minutes you may only be able to work on two kinds of problems in an essay—thesis and structure, citation and reflection on evidence, transitions and orienting the reader, etc. This section of the conference must be interactive; help the wrier see problems, but prompt him or her to imagine solutions. When you give examples or model more fruitful approaches, prompt the writer to try rewriting this passage or the next one like it. Try to ensure that you are not doing all the talking and that the student is doing some writing.


5. Plan the student’s further revision (5-10 minutes)

Planning further revision is sometimes difficult to save time for, but it is very often essential to a successful consultation. All writers need more revision than is possible during a single conference. Helping them plan this continued work is often the best assistance a Fellow can give. Monitor Step 4 carefully so that you can stop the writer after 40 minutes of the session and have him or her start writing a plan for further revision. Make a list together of the next three things the student will do in revising the paper; in some cases, you may also include advice about longer-term issues the student can work on in his or her writing.