Synchronous Appointment Strategies

This page will give you a breakdown of strategies for synchronous appointments. Being with a writer in real time—online or in-person—gives peer writing tutors an opportunity to “use a process approach, to serve as an audience for [writers], and to familiarize [writers] with the conventions of academic discourse” (Shamoon & Burns, 1995, p. 135). Additionally, because each writer and each writing exigence is different, synchronous appointments allow you to “attend to the individual concerns of every writer who walks in the door,” whether the door is real or metaphorical (Harris & Silva, 1993, p. 525).

🫂 Build Rapport

Building rapport enhances a sense of connection among people that promotes positive communication and aids learning (Mehrabian, 1971; Richmond, Gorham, & McCroskey, 1987; Witt, Wheeless, & Allen, 2004). As Mackiewicz and Thompson (2013) found, “affective connections” between a peer writing tutor and a writer that are established through “building rapport and solidarity” during appointments are crucial to successful tutoring. Our work, “at [its] most successful, require[s] high levels of cooperation among participants” (Mackiewicz & Thompson, 2013, p. 66). In short, building rapport is a necessary skill for any peer writing tutor and has been proven to make writers more invested in their projects and more receptive to feedback.
Whenever you meet writers, greet them by name and introduce yourself. Consider bringing up a topic of conversation to get them talking. You need not focus on their writing immediately: off-topic dialogue can allow you and the writer to build rapport and can sometimes lead to discussions that provide valuable insights into the writer’s sense of themselves as a writer and learner (Lehman, Cade, & Olney, 2010, p. 108). Sharing writing with a stranger can be intimidating, and building rapport allows you to emphasize your role as a peer rather than an evaluator and will make the writer feel safer and more comfortable with sharing their work.
Building and cultivating rapport engages and encourages writers, establishes empathy, creates a safe space for conversation, facilitates risk-taking, and opens a dialogue about writing. Rapport-building conversation can be focused on whatever you think will allow you to connect with writers. If this is a writer’s first experience with the Writing Center, building rapport will help you explain your role as a peer writing tutor.
In this episode of The Breakroom, the Writing Center's web series about peer writing tutoring, Charlotte learns that building rapport isn't a waste of time.

📝 Collaboratively Set an Agenda

Setting an agenda is a collaborative endeavor that helps you focus your work, manage time in the appointment, and write an appointment letter. Working together with the writer to set the agenda helps you efficiently navigate the appointment and effectively prioritize the 1-3 goals you set.
In order to help the writer navigate what to cover in the appointment, you should gather as much information as possible. Asking questions can help you gauge the writer’s understandings, assumptions, and expectations; this is especially important when working with English as an additional language writers and international students (Bruce, 2009).
When collaboratively setting the agenda, it can be helpful to break down the structure of the appointment; as Bruce (2009) points out, “an explanation of the time allotted for the session may help the student see the need for the organized plan” (p. 35). This provides writers with the opportunity to express what they feel their immediate needs are and will help as you collaboratively set the agenda. Work with the writer to establish how the time of the appointment will be allotted. Use this as an opportunity to explain that the last 10 minutes of the appointment (or the last 5 minutes for a 30-minute appointment) are to be used for writing the appointment letter.
As you collaboratively set the agenda, find out
  • The draft or project due date
  • The writer’s expectations and priorities for the appointment
  • Information about the project the writer is working on (related materials, prompt, writer’s familiarity with the assignment, etc.)
  • What stage of their writing process the writer is in
  • The writer’s drafting habits and practices
  • The type of feedback the writer has received in the past and, in particular, what type of feedback they find most helpful
  • Any specific questions or concerns the writer has for you
Work with the writer to decide on 1, 2, or 3 specific goals for the session.
Knowing when the draft is due or what the writer’s priorities are for the appointment is important to gather because it will help you give the writer the most useful, actionable feedback possible. For example, if a draft is due an hour after the appointment ends, you will want to focus your agenda on aspects of the draft that can be revised within that time frame.
Resetting or Revising an Agenda
If, at some point during the appointment, you or the writer think the agenda needs to be revised, reset the agenda. You might say
  • Was there anything you noticed as we read through the draft that you wanted to add to or take off our agenda?
  • Before addressing transitions, as you requested, I want to make sure I understand your thesis. Perhaps we can add that to our agenda?
When you and the writer have decided what to work on, develop strategies together with the writer to achieve the revised agenda.
Working Through an Agenda
Once you and the writer have collaborated to set an agenda, begin working towards achieving it. How you go about doing so depends on the goals of the agenda, the time available in the appointment, and the writer’s preferences, among other factors. Use the Writing Center’s core practices to guide the appointment and achieve the goals set out at the beginning. Revisit the agenda periodically to ensure that you are working towards the goals or to re-negotiate the agenda if necessary.

🥳 Give Praise

The rapport that you build during your opening conversation with the writer will ideally create a sense of trust that you can cultivate throughout the appointment. Offering specific, genuine, and process-based praise for whatever the writer is doing well in their work can further this trust and motivate the writer to continue developing good writing practices.
Make your praise specific and concrete. Find examples from their work to show the writer what they are doing well. Murphy and Sherwood (2011) argue that one of your tasks as a peer writing tutor is to “suggest ways to enhance the strengths…in the [writer’s] writing” (p. 22). Praise also helps the writer become explicitly aware of what is working well in their draft: “by pointing out to a [writer] when [they are] doing something right, you reinforce behavior that may have started as a felicitous accident” (Brooks, 1995, p. 3).
Your genuine praise need not only be directed towards the writer’s text; you might praise the writer’s effort, commitment to their growth as a writer, or awareness of the writing processes that work best for them.
In this episode of The Breakroom, the Writing Center's web series about peer writing tutoring, Jon learns that offering specific praise and critical feedback is much more helpful for a writer than generic praise.
Use Praise as a Bridge to Constructive Criticism
Help the writer use stronger areas of a draft as models for revising weaker areas. Murphy and Sherwood (2011) argue that “noting strengths and achievements in the writing can build a student’s confidence and set the tone for comments and suggestions that follow” (p. 22). For example, you can offer praise on a section of a draft that provides credible evidence for claims and suggest the writer look at that section as a model when they revise a section that lacks credible evidence.

🌎 Prioritize Global Concerns

Focus your conversations with writers on global concerns such as responding to the exigence, thesis, organization, or argument before moving on to local concerns like syntax, diction, or sentence boundaries.
Prioritizing and addressing global concerns before local concerns is ultimately more efficient for writers as they revise or develop their drafts because individual sentences or whole paragraphs may not remain in a text once more global concerns are addressed. For example, a writer may include a paragraph or section in their draft that isn't clearly connected to their purpose or their exigence for writing. Working to fix sentences in this paragraph or section might prove a waste of time if the writer would be better served by either removing these parts or revising them in significant ways.
Though some writers are aware of the argument for prioritizing global concerns over local ones, you may need to explain how they can prioritize revisions that will have the most positive impact on their draft.

📍 Address Local Concerns Effectively

Focusing on local concerns can help writers improve their drafts and learn grammatical and stylistic principles that they can apply in future contexts. Look for patterns of error and prioritize your feedback on issues that obscure meaning or confuse you as a reader.
Sometimes an error that is not patterned should take priority on the agenda because it can have global consequences. As Harris and Silva (1993) explain, grammatical errors that impede meaning are global errors: “Suppose a [writer], attempting to describe some classmates as uninspired by a particular lecture, wrote: ‘Those students are boring’ instead of ‘Those students are bored.’ This would constitute a global error” (p. 527).
Overall, when discussing local concerns like sentence structure and diction, focus on the choices writers can make to specifically enhance meaning and promote the audience’s understanding.

✏️ Take Notes

Taking notes in a face-to-face appointment is beneficial for both writer and tutor. Not only does it create a written record of what was discussed in the appointment, but writing ideas out on paper or on a computer can also facilitate problem-solving and idea generation. Additionally, it will benefit you when you write your appointment letter at the end of the appointment.
In draft-based appointments, take notes or create an outline as the writer reads their draft aloud. This will make it easier to work through and revisit the agenda. You or the writer can also take notes while working through the agenda to keep a record of what is discussed or worked on. If you want to take notes on a writer’s draft, make sure to ask permission before marking their paper. If you take notes on a separate piece of paper, make sure to offer them to the writer at the end of the appointment and incorporate them into your appointment letter. If you type the notes, make sure to leave enough time at the end of the appointment to email them to the writer or print them out.
In brainstorming appointments, ensure that 1 or both of you take notes to capture the ideas, information, and strategies generated in the appointment. Ask the writer if they prefer to take notes or if they would like you to take notes, as speaking without writing allows some writers to generate ideas more effectively. If the writer prefers that you be the main notetaker, make sure you transcribe but not prescribe ideas and wording. Let the writer know that you will give them the notes at the end of the appointment.

💅 Provide Options & Models

Support the writer’s agency to make decisions about their work and any changes to it by offering multiple approaches they can consider for revision. For instance, “As a reader, I found myself stumbling a bit over this sentence. There are a few ways you might break up this passage that would make the points a little easier to follow and perhaps more emphatic.”
Sometimes writers may be unsure how to implement a revision, so modeling how to make a suggested change can help. For example, “This is another place where your readers might benefit from a fuller example, like the one you provided on your fourth page.”
Encouraging and allowing writers to decide what is best for their work maintains their agency. When you offer the writer explicit suggestions, try to offer at least 2 options for addressing an issue. When you talk with the writer about the range of choices they have in using words, structures, and connections and show them how different choices affect the meaning, you can, in Shamoon and Burns’s (2001) words, display “rhetorical processes in action” (p. 146). Explain any rules, genre conventions, or stylistic preferences that inform your suggestions, referring to a reference book, favorite online resource, or another peer writing tutor if you are unsure.

☑️ Check In

Periodically at times during an appointment, it can be effective to ask the writer how effective or helpful the appointment has been for them thus far. In a meta-conversation, pause the activity at hand to talk about how you're talking. Ask the writer if they have any suggestions for different approaches to your way of offering feedback or if the appointment is going well for them. Going meta about the appointment dynamic can feel odd or like a waste of valuable time, but in some cases may be necessary or help reset an appointment where you don't feel like you and the writer are connecting with one another. Here are some questions that can help you and the writer go meta:
  • How is [the goal in progress] going?
  • What is affecting our progress on [the goal]?
  • How are you seeing [the goal: content and/or process] develop?
  • How are you feeling about the content or process? What’s causing that feeling?
  • What did you do when you encountered a moment of confusion or a struggle?
  • What questions do you have about the [goal in progress]?

🔗 Offer Links to Online Resources

Support a writer’s growth and share resources and links to information that help a writer learn more about the genres, strategies, and writing topics that came up during an appointment. For example, “This resource has info on lit reviews that I like because it has step-by-step examples. Here’s the link…” You can add resource links to your Appointment Letters and, in Online Realtime, send them to writers during the appointment via chat.

🪜 Plan Next Steps

As the appointment nears its end, revisit the agenda and discuss the writer’s next steps and potential revisions. Summarize or ask the writer to summarize what you did during the appointment and what next steps to take after the appointment.
Tell the writer that you will write an appointment letter summarizing the appointment. Let the writer know that to write the letter, you need to end the appointment 10 minutes before the end of the allotted appointment time (or 5 minutes before the end of a 30-minute appointment). Consider drafting the letter collaboratively.
Invite the writer to schedule follow-up appointments and encourage them to visit the Writing Center again.

🧠 Brainstorming Appointments

Writers come to the Writing Center at all stages of the writing process, and it is important that tutors have the resources and training to support them at each stage. A common appointment type is a brainstorming appointment. Brainstorming appointments are when writers come to the Writing Center for help organizing their thoughts at the beginning of the writing process. Consider the strategies below to help guide and navigate brainstorming appointments.
Play the “Yes, And” Game
The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible. On a shared screen, the writer can identify the topic at the top of the page and then start a list with 1 way to approach that topic. For example, if the topic is the presidential election, the writer may list voter fraud as a possible topic. Then, you can jump in next by saying, “Yes, and you could also focus on voting laws.” Take turns going back and forth generating “yes, and” ideas until you have a lengthy list. From there, the writer can start selecting, eliminating, and grouping ideas that interest them.
Make a List
List-making is a useful strategy for project-based and writer-based conversations. You can collaborate with a writer to create relevant list categories, such as “evidence needed,” “new paragraph topics,” “revision strategies,” or “next steps” and then work together to populate the list. Sometimes sequential lists can be particularly helpful for planning next steps or thinking about a project’s organization.
Listing can be useful to break up a daunting project into manageable segments. Use listing to get some ideas on paper and to generate more ideas to talk about during the appointment. Have the writer jot down all possible ideas or examples that come to mind for a particular topic or exigency. Then, have them read through the list, eliminate some concepts, and group others in categories.
Work with the writer to generate an outline for the project on a shared screen. Discuss and model different types of outlines, such as a scratch outline or a formal outline, and work with the writer to discover the outline most appropriate for the project. If you are working on an electronic document, it is easy for the writer to move things around based on your questions and feedback.
Suggest a short time span (2-5 minutes) to write on a given topic. The only rule in freewriting is that writing cannot stop during the set period. If a writer feels stuck, then they can write “I don’t know what to write” until something else pops into their head. The point is to let the writer’s subconscious guide them and see what flows out. You can then review the writer’s freewrite to see if they have generated any ideas for the project or for a second focused, or looped, freewrite.
Talk About Context
Understanding the context in which or for which a writer is writing makes it easier to understand what needs to be written. Context also helps writers understand their audience and their audience’s expectations. Talking about context might also help writers think of ideas they have not considered. Some questions to ask the writer when you use this strategy include
  • What is the overall purpose of the piece?
  • What genre conventions are expected in this kind of writing?
  • How much specialized knowledge about this topic do you assume your audience has?
Play the Devil’s Advocate
If a writer is working on a persuasive or argumentative project and is having trouble finding support for their position, play the devil’s advocate to point out holes, weak claims, and so forth. Use this strategy to help the writer clarify questions that a reader might have about the writer's arguments in order to help strengthen their claims. Have the writer respond to counterarguments and questions that you offer. If the writer is unsure about which side to take on an issue, have the writer try to defend both sides to see which side they want to support.
Create a Mind Map
Begin by asking the writer to place a key word or concept in the middle of a document. Then, work with the writer to create branches of related words and concepts that extend from the original word or concept or from 1 of the branches. The writer should focus on 1 word or concept per branch. Encourage the writer to use images in addition to words as they develop the branches. Mind mapping works great with paper and colorful pens or pencils or on a computer with programs such as Padlet, Google Jamboard, Corgi (digital graphic organizers) or PowerPoint.
Walk Away & Give Writers Time to Work
If you and the writer both agree to it, it is completely appropriate for you to step away from the appointment for a few minutes while the writer works. Give the writer a task to work on such as writing the first sentence for an introductory paragraph, revising a thesis, or jotting down claims to support an argument. Let the writer know you are leaving them alone or turning off your camera for a few minutes. This allows the writer to do some work without the pressure of having someone watch them write. When writers actually write during the appointment, it gives you both more material to work with during the appointment.
Do Research
If the writer is working on a research-based assignment, they may not have compiled enough information to begin drafting their paper. If this is the case, appointment time can be spent doing guided research.
Show the writer online resources such as the databases on the University Library’s website, and discuss effective research strategies like choosing keywords. Based on what you find, discuss ways the information can shape or influence their argument.
You can direct the writer to the research librarians at the library, who will further assist them in the research process.

📄 Draft-Based Appointments

Many writers come to appointments with some writing already completed and looking to revise their work. We call these appointment types draft-based appointments, as they are mostly centered around working on the writer's pre-existing draft. Review the strategies below for ways to engage with the writer's draft and make the appointment the most beneficial experience possible.
Read Aloud
Reading aloud is a key strategy at the Writing Center that relates directly to our core practice of actively listening and reading, and it is recommended for every draft-based face-to-face appointment. Depending on the length of the appointment, ask the writer to read the whole draft or portions of it. Feel free to print out a copy of the draft if it would help this process.
Reading aloud is valuable for both writers and peer writing tutors. Writers hear their words aloud—perhaps for the first time—allowing them to focus on a draft’s strengths and weaknesses in a different way than silently reading words on the page. Reading aloud enables both of you to get a sense of the work as a whole, and it keeps the writer engaged while giving you time to review the draft.
Read Aloud Best Practices & Considerations
  • Have the writer read through the entire draft or an entire section. By reading without interruption, you have time to identify patterns and set priorities. Encourage the writer to mark places in the draft where they have concerns or questions so they can be revisited for further discussion.
  • Ask the writer to read slowly and read verbatim what is on the page or screen. When the writer reads their words aloud deliberately and accurately, they are more likely to identify problems with logic and organization as well as mistakes with grammar and punctuation.
  • Some writers will feel uncomfortable reading aloud. Emphasize to the writer the benefits of reading their draft aloud and reassure them that the Writing Center is a friendly place where tutors and writers are encouraging and supportive. If the writer still feels uncomfortable reading aloud, you may offer to read for them. Ask the writer to take notes or mark on the draft places they think need revision so that they are still actively involved in the process of reading aloud.
  • Know that, when working with English as an additional language (EAL) writers, reading aloud is still valuable, but it may be better for you to read aloud. Matsuda and Cox (2009) make the case that, for some writers, it may be more valuable for the tutor to read aloud to maintain the focus on the writing: "[Reading aloud] may not work well for some ESL writers who have not developed that intuitive sense of the English language. For many ESL writers, reading their paper out loud may shift their attention to the pronunciation of the English Language—an aspect of language proficiency separate from writing in English" (p. 47). By having the tutor read the draft aloud, the writer is able to hear where the tutor has difficulty reading, adds in missing syntactical elements, or reads with ease. Additionally, Matsuda and Cox (2009) suggest that tutors first read the paper silently, "focusing on what the writer is trying to communicate and how the paper is organized" (p.47). This can help prevent the tutor and writer from focusing on or getting overwhelmed by grammar or language issues.
  • Model active listening by taking notes. Jot down key ideas and things you notice or want to return to in a discussion after hearing the entire draft. Consider outlining the draft while listening which can set up later discussions with the writer about organization.
  • In a video and voice-based appointment, ask the writer to post the draft so that you can read while the writer reads aloud.
  • In text-based chat appointments, give the writer a meaningful task related to the initial agenda while you read through their draft. For example, if the writer has concerns about passive voice, have the writer highlight all “to be” verbs for future discussion, or if the writer has questions about citations, have them look at the resources you suggest on our website.
  • After reading aloud, revisit the agenda you set at the beginning of the appointment. If both you and the writer think the initial agenda you collaboratively set reflects the priorities for revising the project, then proceed with that agenda. However, if after hearing the draft you or the writer think the agenda needs to be revised, reset the agenda.
Model Problem Solving
Flower and Hayes (1977) note that “some writers have a very limited repertory of thinking techniques to call on as they write” (p.451). Because of this, it can be helpful to model problem solving strategies and techniques that writers can utilize in their writing process. When working with a writer, use personal experience or external research to demonstrate ways to approach problem solving in the writing process. Additionally, show the writer how you use resources like reference books, sources on the Writing Center webpage, other writers, or the internet to answer questions about writing.
Create an Outline
Write an outline where you predict paragraph and section breaks. Comparing your outline to the writer’s draft can help facilitate a conversation about organization and reader expectations. It can also generate discussion about the messages the writer’s words convey to the reader, or about the ways that transitions help readers.
Create a Reverse Outline
Creating a reverse outline refers to outlining a text that has already been drafted. Reverse outlines can be helpful for breaking down a draft into pieces and seeing how each piece works as a part of the whole. In some circumstances it may be helpful for you, as the reader of the draft, to create the reverse outline so that you can show where the logic or organization of an argument is clear or unclear. Other times, it may be helpful for the writer to create a reverse outline without looking at their draft and then compare the argument and claims they verbalized in their reverse outline to their actual draft.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Questions that start with who, what, where, when, why, which, and how ask the writer to elaborate.
Particularly in the quick back-and-forth of text-based chat exchanges, be sure to resist the temptation to accept very short answers—make sure that you understand the writer’s points and that they understand yours. For example, ask the writer, “Can you tell me more about how your point in this paragraph supports your argument?”
Make a T-Chart
On 1 side, list words, phrases, ideas, etc. that you found effective and where you want to offer the writer specific process-based praise. On the other side, list words, phrases, or ideas that you would like to revisit for possible revision. Your notes may reveal particular patterns to help you prioritize the conversation. For example, you might notice some particularly evocative examples that the writer uses. Tell the writer, “Your examples help me as a reader understand your points more clearly. I did see moments where you could improve your transitions.” You can also customize the T-chart to address the topics you and the writer negotiated during agenda-setting.
Cut Up the Draft
Physically cutting up a draft can be a valuable technique for working on organization, as it transforms a draft from a whole into distinct elements that can be moved around. Ask the writer for permission to cut up the draft. Grab scissors from the reception desk and use them to cut the text into clusters of information. Then, work with the writer to rearrange their work. This can be effective in organizing sentences, paragraphs, or sections, depending on what the writer needs to focus on. For online appointments, share this strategy with a writer to try on their own.

🤼 Proofreading & Editing

Guiding Principles
When collaboratively proofreading and editing, prioritize the aspects that affect your understanding of the draft the most or the ones that are most frequent. If addressing grammar, provide the writer with an explanation of the grammatical convention (or find a resource online if you do not know it) and 2 or 3 options for revision. If you notice these same grammatical errors in later paragraphs or sentences, give the writer the chance to revise them before you point them out. In doing so, your feedback becomes more transferable, and the writer gets practice developing good proofreading habits for future drafts.
Read the Draft in a New Way
After working on a draft for a while, writers may not notice grammatical errors or unclear sections of their writing because they get used to how their words look and sound. By giving the writer the opportunity to read their draft in a new way, these things may become clearer to them.
One way to read a draft in a new way is by having the writer read their draft backwards sentence-by-sentence. Because the writer is used to reading their draft in a certain order, they may not notice grammatical errors or unclear phrasing. By reading the draft in a different order these issues may become more apparent to the writer.
Another strategy would be to physically isolate sentences from each other using pieces of paper. Cover up the text around a sentence with paper and have the writer read the sentence aloud. This takes the sentence out of the context of the paragraph and may make it easier for the writer to notice things they want to change.
Keep Goals Realistic
When proofreading and editing collaboratively with the writer, don’t try to point out everything you notice. Instead, prioritize the most frequent or impactful trends. Let the writer know that this is your approach. If the writer is insistent that they need their draft to be refined beyond what you can address in your appointment, offer the writer another appointment at the Writing Center or suggest resources they can utilize to proofread on their own.
Identify Components of a Sentence
Have the writer identify components of a sentence (e.g., subject, verb, object) or identify these components for them. By breaking the sentence up into its individual parts, it may be easier to address grammar or clarity issues within the sentences. Identifying components of a sentence can be particularly effective in helping writers recognize and work with run-on sentences or sentence fragments. This is also a transferable strategy the writer can use while proofreading on their own.
Make Feedback Transferable
While the Writing Center does not proofread or edit drafts for writers, we do proofread or edit drafts collaboratively with writers. Proofreading and editing are still an important part of the writing process, so by doing them with the writer, you are giving them the tools to be a more effective proofreader and editor.
If a writer specifically requests to work on proofreading or editing, and there are no other global concerns to address, prioritize giving transferable feedback and sentence-level revision strategies.

💥 Addressing Challenges & Issues

Ending an Appointment On Time
It is important to give yourself enough time to write your appointment letter at the end of each appointment. However, at times writers may be hesitant to end their session after 25 minutes (for a 30-minute appointment), 50 minutes (for a 1-hour appointment), etc. In order to avoid going over the allotted time, and thus potentially falling behind in writing your appointment letters, it is important to set time management expectations at the beginning of the appointment by explaining our policy. If a writer seems resistant, remind them that the appointment letter is for their direct benefit as it (a) serves as a reminder of the strategies and methods discussed in the appointment, (b) lists any external resources that the writer may want to use as they are revising, and (c) lets future tutors that the writer may work with know what kind of strategies have been helpful in the past.
Check-in with the writer throughout the appointment and adjust the agenda as needed to ensure that you can end on time. When there are 10 minutes left (or 5 minutes in a 30-minute appointment), begin to wrap up the appointment and remind the writer you will take the remaining time to write the letter. Let the writer know they are welcome to continue working until the end of the hour or half-hour. If you need to, you can excuse yourself and go to a different table to signal that the appointment is over. If the writer needs more time, direct them to the receptionist to schedule another appointment.
Maintaining a Collaborative Dynamic
Many of the writers that we work with are visiting the Writing Center for the first time. Because of this, not all writers may be familiar with the types of services that we offer or our tutoring methodologies. When setting the agenda, it is important to articulate our goals. For example, if a writer requests that you line-edit their paper, you may instead outline various strategies for checking grammatical or sentence-level errors, then collaboratively decide upon a strategy that works best for both tutor and writer. If a writer is resistant to this, you can direct them to the receptionist for additional information.
In this episode of The Breakroom, the Writing Center's web series about peer writing tutoring, Zorno learns that some writers need time to think and so "wait time" after asking a writer questions is important.
Whether because of nerves, awkward silences, or a topic you are passionate about, you may find yourself doing all or most of the talking in an appointment. To avoid this, make sure to ask the writer questions or turn their questions back on them, asking them what they think about the question at hand.
Be prepared for silences as the writer organizes ideas. It can be tempting to fill silences by talking, but some writers need more time to think before they talk. If there is an especially long pause, you can rephrase the question or response.
Managing the Tutor-Writer Relationship
When building rapport in a face-to-face appointment, it is typical to share things about yourself and likewise to get to know a bit about the writer. However, this friendly dynamic can sometimes lead to misinterpretations on the part of the writer or even the tutor. If a situation arises in which a writer asks questions or makes comments that deviate from the purpose of the appointment, whether of a personal nature or otherwise, be firm in guiding the writer back to the agenda.
What If the Writer Wants to Take the Relationship Outside the Writing Center?
Writing Center Tutors are some of the nicest people at DePaul, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that some writers will want to be your friend (or more) outside of the Writing Center. They may ask you to meet up for a coffee, to become social media friends, or to go on a date. Note that there are no rules against socializing with the writers who come to the Writing Center, so if you genuinely feel the same way, by all means say “yes.” However, please do not initiate personal relationships within the context of your role as a tutor. While you are peers, you are still in a position of authority, and you should never put someone in a position where they feel as if they could not say “no.”
If you do not want to socialize with someone who asks you to, you can politely and firmly say “no.” Explain that your policy is to keep professional and personal relationships separate, or say that the Writing Center’s policy discourages it. If someone does not seem to take “no” for an answer or makes you uncomfortable, remove yourself from the appointment and inform the receptionist. Writing Center administrators will intervene when necessary.
Working with a Writer Who Is Only Having an Appointment Because Their Instructor Required It
In this episode of The Breakroom, the Writing Center's web series about peer writing tutoring, Jaymie learns that she can have a productive appointment with a writer who's only come to her because his professor required if of him.
Working with a Writer Who Is Overly Confident in Their Writing
In this episode of The Breakroom, the Writing Center's web series about peer writing tutoring, Kenneth works with a writer who is overly confident in their writing and learns that—by asserting his own expertise—he can still help the writer.
Discussing Difficult Topics
Given the nature of academic work, at times you may encounter sensitive materials, such as controversial or explicit topics or content that is personal to the writer. In these cases, discuss with the writer which materials they feel comfortable discussing openly in the Writing Center. You may need to refrain from reading aloud. Additionally, you may offer to provide written feedback if that may be a more comfortable modality for the writer.
At times you may not agree with a writer’s opinions or arguments, whether political, social, or otherwise. Elbow (1993) argues for the importance of approaching appointments with a goal of “liking” a writer’s work so that you can focus on the draft at hand and apply the same strategies you would for any other appointment. Also, know that you have resources and support available to you at all times. If needed, excuse yourself from the appointment and speak with the receptionist or an available administrator for support or strategies.
In this episode of The Breakroom, the Writing Center's web series about peer writing tutoring, Geoff learns strategies for productively handling ideological conflict in his work with writers.
Helping Writers Get Support Beyond Writing
Writing, and more generally college coursework, can be difficult for even the most experienced writers. You may encounter appointments in which the writer is feeling frustrated or stressed out by a particular assignment or course, which can sometimes lead to difficulties focusing on the initial goals set in the appointment. In these moments, it is important to remain empathetic and supportive of the writer. If necessary, collaboratively revise the agenda, even if this means simply talking out frustrations. Do not hesitate to step away from the appointment for a moment if the writer would like time to gather their thoughts. Additionally, if appropriate, you may direct the writer to DePaul Division of Student Affairs, who provide a number of Support Services for students.