The Five Most Important Things I Have Learned as a Writing Tutor
Today was my last first day at the Writing Center, where I have worked since I was a sophomore. Working seven hours a week for usually thirteen weeks out of the semester, my math, however bad, tells me I see close to one hundred papers a term. That’s a lot, especially multiplied over three years. Through all this, I’ve learned so much about writing, much more than I would ever have learned just on my own. Trying to distill three years of experience into a list is tricky, if not impossible, but here is my valiant attempt to encapsulate the most important things I’ve learned:
- The number one problem students face while writing is not grammar, or citations, or even those tricky devils, thesis statements. No, the biggest problem with most students’ writing is a lack of confidence in their writing skills. Probably at least half of the appointments I’ve had start with a student telling me “I have terrible grammar,” “I suck at writing,” or even, “I can’t write.” While it’s true that not everyone has a lot of skill in writing, this isn’t due to any innate defect. I promise you, given time, you can write. And just having confidence in this fact while acquiring more skill will make your paper better. Don’t write as an apology; have some confidence and work at it! Bringing me to…
- Writing is a skill. I’m not talking about creative writing; whether or not that is a natural skill is not a question that I can answer (although my horrible attempts at poetry suggest that at least some affinity is desirable). However, technical and academic writing can be taught. Can be practiced. It seems to come naturally to some people—who are incidentally the people who do the most writing, and, even more importantly, the most reading. Students can improve their writing by a) reading people whose styles they admire and b) practicing writing. Sure, it’s work, but it can be done. And with how important writing is to college, and often to LIFE, I’d humbly suggest that it’s well worth it.
- Grammar isn’t the most important thing. Which is a hard fact for me to face; I love grammar, and have envisioned myself being a copy editor, gleefully striking out redundancies and correcting comma splices. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how beautiful your language is if you’re not saying anything. A lot of people come in wanting help with grammar, and that’s well and good. Grammar is important in presenting your arguments in a way that will be taken seriously. But if your thesis has nothing to do with the rest of your paper, that’s a lot worse than your propensity to heinously split infinitives.
- Everyone has something to say, and a paper is your chance to say it. While yes, some topics may not be your exact cup of tea, you can find an angle to attack almost any topic that allows you to write impassionedly. The trick is finding it. Instead of looking at a paper as another chore, look at it as an opportunity to express your opinion in the most coherent, eloquent way possible. If you find a way to care about the topic, your papers will almost write themselves. Take a stand. See what happens.
- Finally, and I mean this, DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, rely on Word’s thesaurus, unless you are POSITIVE you know what the suggested word means. Seriously, just don’t. It's hilarious for all the wrong reasons.