By Kathyrn Vellone and Jackie Miller
More likely than not, we all can think of at least one person we know who seems to have a natural talent for writing. You want your paper to be as flawless as theirs, so you hire them to “fix” your paper for you. When you realize how easy this is for you and they don’t seem to mind, you keep coming back to them, using them like a copy machine with minimal effort. Next, you read your edited assignment like a complicated computer code, not exactly knowing why things are altered the way they are, but assuming it’s all correct regardless. Finally, you hand in the paper, only to be upset several weeks later when it doesn’t meet your professor’s specifications. You take it out on your editor for being “wrong,” and adopt a strong distaste for writing all together. Sound familiar at all?
While peer editing and review with friends or classmates can be helpful in some cases, what’s a student to do when they’re not guaranteed a good grade on a writing assignment? Ironically, the answer lies in one of the most underutilized resources on our campus, which is the Writing Center. We writing coaches take great pride in helping other students with writing assignments of any type, size, or subject; however, think twice about asking us the question “Will you edit my paper for me?” When you look at the whole picture of the writing process, there is a fine line between a writing tutor editing a student’s paper and guiding them on improvements to their work.
To help clarify the difference between the two actions, think about it the way you would when comparing a corporate supermarket and a small, local farm for your food. Having a writing tutor simply edit your paper is like going to a large grocery store with packaged goods everywhere. You may have no clue on the source, processing, or overall quality of the new grammar, sentence structure, etc. from your tutor, but take it anyway out of habit. You then check out with your “cashier”, receiving a simple transaction summary, but minimal interaction with them. They seem like they’re just there to do their job, not telling you the writing skills you should shop for based on your needs.
Our writing coaches here would much rather strive to be like the small, local farmer who is very open with his or her customers and pays close attention to their individual needs. However, we can’t live up to the Writing Center’s mission of helping students become better writers without those students making a critical investment in their writing. In other words, we know that those who help themselves through preparation and a willingness to learn are the ones we can help most in return.
Kathyrn Vellone and Jackie Miller