Tutoring professional writing can be scary, but it’s hard to say why. Two things seem to happen when I see nervous tutors confronted with a cover letter, resume, or personal statement. They either freeze up completely, letting an uncomfortable silence fill the room. Or, they begin to do their best impression of Twista, chattering incessantly and completely appropriating the text.
This stigma surrounding professional writing intrigued me. Along with fellow/tutor/wunderkind Emily Duddleston, I embarked on a quest of epic proportions, a quest to find the root of this fear. Through our research and collaboration, we hoped to find both higher-level ideas and lower-level tricks to help tutors become more comfortable working with these genres.
Emily and I had many different conversations with UCWbLers during this time, and some of them even had to do with professional writing. Through these talks, we found that many tutors make the assumption that the stakes are higher when working with professional writing. Instead of a grade, the tutor feels they are helping the writer try to receive a job. Other tutors also feared that they were not authorities on many popular genres of professional writing. How can a tutor help with such an important document if they didn’t even know how to write one themselves?
Avery, Leit, and Perlman also found that writers have a different perception of professional writing. “On the one hand,” they write, “writers are demonstrably more invested in the outcome of the writing project—will it get me a job? Into graduate school? Into the internship program?—and on the other hand, often much less confident about their approach, and therefore somewhat more dependent upon the consultant for evaluative feedback.”
Both the writer and the tutor have different perceptions of how professional writing should be handled. Oftentimes, tutors take over the writing, reworking large parts of it because of an assumed responsibility. Writers are usually okay with this, because they want to achieve their end goals.
But how to use these tutorials to create better writers, and not just better writing? Avery and Co. suggest making sure to focus on the “process of writing” instead of the end product and ultimate goal. This takes the pressure off of the tutor; they should no longer feel responsible for the fate of the writer. This also gives the writer more agency to represent themselves in important, personal documents.
All writing is rhetorical, and professional writing oftentimes has even less space to make an argument. Emily and I suggest focusing on the rhetorical elements of the writing – What is the writer trying to tell the intended audience? How are they supporting this argument? By focusing on the rhetorical aspects of the writing you help the writer create a better document, but you also help them see how even a resume is calculatedly rhetorical.
Also, be sure to stress that, as is the case with most writing, a trip to the writing center is just one step in the revision process. Avery and friends found that, on average, writers spend three tutorials on one professional document. A tutor should never feel that they are the only ones who will help the writer with their work, and a writer should never feel that one visit to the writing center will fix their writing forever. Highlighting the path of revision takes the pressure off of both the writer and the tutor.
These ideas will, hopefully, help you become less uneasy about working with professional writing. Here are some tips for when you’re in the trenches (and by trenches, I mean tutorials):
1. Explore DePaul’s resources together
The career center has a great website that is chock full of helpful hints and examples. The UCWbL website also has tips for working with all sorts of professional writing.
2. Write a thesis statement for a resume
This is a great way to get writers to think about their resumes as rhetorical arguments. Forcing them to distill what they want to portray to the reader in 1-2 sentences also shows them important information to include.
3. Ask other tutors for advice
Just because you haven’t written a CV doesn’t mean that other tutors haven’t. Many of your fellow employees have experience in a variety of professional writing. And if they don’t, they may know a trick or two that will help you out.
4. Hold the Resume a foot away from the writer
While visual rhetoric is extremely important for resumes, this can oftentimes be a difficult idea to convey to writers. Try holding the document a foot away from them. Ask them what stands out, and what they want to highlight. This can help both tutor and writer think about visual hierarchy and persuasion.