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Working Outside Your Comfort Zone

Your writing comfort zone, that is. As writing fellows, we will inevitably work with students who need help on types of writing we’re not familiar with. This situation can present itself in many forms:

      • You’ve never taken a class in (or even heard of) the field for which they’re writing – you’re intimidated and don’t want to lose credibility with the student.
      • You’ve never had the professor or heard anything about them – they could have eccentric methods or expectations that can only be learned through experience.
      • The type of writing they want to work on has some specific conventions that you’re not accustomed to. This could be true of many fields, such as:
            • Philosophy
            • Science
            • Math
            • Foreign Languages

      Not to worry! There are certainly commonalities of good writing, regardless of the discipline in question. Often, you can focus on the same issues you would in any consultation:

          • Argument– is it strong and somewhat controversial? Is it articulated clearly? Is it supported?
          • Logical progression of ideas– is the paper organized in a reasonable structure? Can you tell how their ideas are connected?
          • Use of evidence as support– are they using sources? Are the sources used effectively? Is there analysis? Citations?
          • Flow and cohesiveness– how readable is the paper? Does anything jump out at you as being out of place? Does everything work to support the argument?
          • Mechanics and lower order concerns – grammar, sentence structure and fluency, word choice, etc. Of less importance than other issues, but should be addressed if such sentence-level concerns are inhibiting the student’s ability to express their ideas.

      Addressing these concerns can help us work with a student on almost any paper. If you want to give the student extra help on more discipline-specific conventions, there are plenty of resources on the Writing Center website and on the shelf right outside the Writing Center.

      It is important to know that some types of papers don’t adhere completely to the aforementioned commonalities. The most common cases are:

          • Creative Writing
          • Foreign Languages
          • Lab Reports

      We generally prefer that students email the Writing Center () if they want to work on these types of papers. Of course, not every student will have known to do this – help them as much as you can, but if you’re sensing that the consultation has become unproductive, encourage them to email for an appointment with a fellow who knows how best to help them.

      Lastly, let the student know about other resources available to them on campus if they need more guidance. It’s important that they feel comfortable talking to their professor, ID1 intern, or TA about those specific issues that writing fellows aren’t always qualified to address. If they’re working on an application for a job, fellowship, or graduate program, they can also get help from the Career Development Office or their faculty advisor.