Getting Rid of the Red Pen: Collaboration and the Writing Center

2947327652_0b46261394Editing reminds me of red pens and elaborate inscriptions on a draft of a paper. Scribbles of adjustments clutter the page, such as, “Move this sentence here” or “Change this word to another” or “Elaborate on this idea.” Sometimes there are sections crossed out entirely. Editing a paper may strive to produce a more concise and polished version of the original draft, however, it also runs the risk of losing the voice of its author. There is no one-on-one feedback or discussion of why a particular sentence was included or why a concept was explained in such a way. Rather, there is a list of orders to follow, sometimes without much elaboration on the purpose or meaning of these instructions for revision.

When I began working as a consultant, I initially believed my job was to “edit” students’ papers, but in fact the entire essence of the Writing Center embodies the exact opposite approach. Yes, there are times where I tell students, “I would suggest adding a comma after this word, because it makes the sentence easier to read.” But in the two years I worked with the Writing Center, I found there is far more to the consultations than just providing a “how-to guide” in fixing one’s paper. Consultations consist of, above all else, conversations about writing, not just red marks on the paper. If there is a question about the paper or its content, it is not our job to say “Get rid of that” or “Change this entirely.” It is our job, rather, to ask why. This initiation of a dialogue between the author and an objective, supportive second set of eyes to the paper allows students to talk about their work without the pressure of wording it precisely on paper. This understanding is often lost in the editing process, and in the two years I have spent with the Writing Center it is far and away the most crucial and beneficial component to our jobs.

If there is a question about the paper or its content, it is not our job to say “Get rid of that” or “Change this entirely.” It is our job, rather, to ask why.

Editing as a revision process only looks at what the author specifically wrote down and make changes based on that alone. Collaboration between two people, the author and the reader, not only seeks to understand the words in the paper themselves, but also the intention behind them. I often work with students frustrated with lengthy papers or assignments they poured hours and hours of work and dedication into, who possess all the ideas and connections in their minds but cannot find the sufficient words to articulate their ideas on paper. When I read a part of a paper and find some lack of clarity in the writing, I do not start by saying “I don’t like this, change that,” but rather I say, “Tell me about this concept” or “What is your main argument here?” Without the pressure of actually writing it in their response but rather talking casually with a consultant, students freely discuss their ideas and their main points of the writing assignments, articulating their points far better than in their original drafts. That is the entire point of the collaboration. It overcomes the obstacle of knowing exactly what you want to say but having no idea how to begin saying it. Collaboration in writing helps see where the author was trying to go, and helps them find the best route to get to it.

There is certainly a place in the world of writing for “editing.” Sometimes knowing where to put a comma or how to spell a word correctly can be just as easily resolved in that form of revision. When it comes to tackling larger spheres of the revision process, however, nothing comes close to the benefits of a collaborative effort. There are countless times where frustrated students come into the Writing Center with papers into which they have invested weeks of work and dedication, yet they are entirely stuck on how to bring it all together. Collaborations seek to initiate a discussion about the paper, and produce subsequent brainstorming and then editing for smaller order components of a paper. Collaboration asks the author’s intentions of the writing, and works together to highlight the author’s voice in the most effective way possible.

Megan Katz is a junior political science major. She is in her second year working at the Writing Center

photo credit: Focus on the Point via photopin (license)


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