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Working with Writing Partners

Typically, Writing Fellows meet with students on a sporadic basis. Over the course of a semester, it is unlikely that you will have consultations with the same student multiple times during regular shifts. However, if you choose to work with a “Writing Partner,” you will see the same student on a consistent schedule. A Writing Partner (WP) arrangement offers unique challenges and benefits. The following is a collection of thoughts and advice for working with writing partners, focused on developing a plan for long-term improvement.

Often, the ground-level strategies we use for normal individual sessions will not change when working with a WP. The pivotal element is building a comfortable relationship with your partner, built on clear, shared goals and expectations. Just as in any relationship, you must have clear expectations and open lines of communication. Aim to play a psychoanalyst-type role. With a WP, the individual papers they work on matter much less than their long-term progress. This is truly a situation where you can work to build a better writer, rather than merely a better paper. Doing so requires a plan. I recommend thinking of a writing partnership in three stages…

The Beginning (1st Month):

Ascertain the tutee’s “writing biography”

  • Spend at least one session talking broadly with your WP about their writing experience. Ask about prior training, attitude toward papers, their view of themselves as a writer – having this information before you start working on their writing will help you develop an effective approach to consultations.  
    • With ESL/international students, this is a particularly important step because many come from countries with different approaches to academic writing.

Establish relationship expectations for your partnership

  • Why did the tutee sign up to have a WP?
    • Do they want help with a specific problem/course or help with writing in general?
    • Did a professor recommend tutoring?
  • Ask the tutee to define their ideal tutoring relationship – what sort of role are they expecting you to play?
  • If they have unrealistic expectations, do not hesitate to assert yourself. Tell the tutee what you will and will not do (I will talk with you and help you develop arguments/I will not edit your paper line by line).
    • Make sure that you and your tutee are on the same page before starting regular consultation work.

Come up with goals for the semester (write them down!)

  • Having a clear sense of what you’re working towards will help both you and your tutee make the most of consultations.
  • Goals will be different for each tutee – be flexible.

Develop a consultation dynamic

  • During your first few consultations on papers, pay close attention to the nature of your interactions – how much time are you talking? How much time is the student talking? What sorts of questions are coming up? What opening/closing strategies are most comfortable?
  • Listen to your intuition – if things feel awkward, don’t wait to address why. This stage of a writing partnership is crucial. Your initial consultations will set the tone for the rest of the semester.

The Middle (2nd-3rd Months):

Work directly toward your goals

  • This is the phase of the WP where the heavy-lifting comes. At this point in the semester, the tutee should have a plethora of assignments to work on and you should have a comfortable working relationship with clear goals.
  • Use your consultations to build a house of writing knowledge, rather than focusing on the details of an individual assignment. Use the paper they’re working on any particular week as a lens to look at higher-order issues
    • i.e. If one of your tutee’s goals is developing more complex theses, perhaps spend one session talking about how to engage with sources, another talking about what an “argumentative” thesis is, another talking about having a “so what”…

Adjust your style

  • The more you work with your tutee, you will notice which strategies are helpful and which end in failure. Keep track of this internally and adjust accordingly.
  • Evaluate progress
    • If your goals aren’t leading anywhere, ask them to step back and reassess. Don’t force yourselves don’t a fruitless path.
    • About halfway through the semester, use a consultation to talk with your tutee solely about how things have gone so far – what they’ve liked, what they haven’t, new issues that have come up over the course of the semester, professor’s comments on their writing, etc etc
    • Repeat the questions from the “beginning” phase. Try to see if their attitude towards writing has changed at all.

The End (4th Month):

Identify a “pilot” paper to test your tutee’s growth

  • Usually students will have one or more lengthy papers due at the end of a semester (ID research papers, term papers, etc). Pick one paper to focus on in depth over your last few consultations.
  • This is a great place to demonstrate how to tie together all of the skills you’ve been teaching your student. Work through the entire writing process together – from brainstorming all the way to editing.


  • Tell the tutee how far they’ve come, point out areas of improvement, leave them feeling like the time they’ve spent in the writing center has made a difference.

Constructive criticism

  • Suggest things to work on in the future, recurring issues to keep an eye on, places to go for further help.


  • Hopefully by the end of a semester your tutee is no longer just a tutee, but also a friend. Do something nice! Thank them for showing up every week and working with you respectfully. Maybe a classy Sagehen Café dinner?

This is certainly not comprehensive, nor the only way to structure a writing partnership. These are merely suggestions, ripe for embellishment and derivation. Ultimately, it will depend on you and your tutee to find what works best for you.