A writer sat down for his session and told me that he’d been working in finance for years, and he was only enrolled in the School for New Learning to confirm his competency. Due to his perception that there was a gap between the amount of knowledge he had about the content of his assignment, a report, and my knowledge of finance, he sat himself on a pedestal for most of the session.
Rather than knocking him off his pedestal so he would respect my tutor authority, I had to coax him down. He and other writers with career experience want help. Yet, these writers know that we, the peer writing tutors, are not always authorities on their content. In fact, our position is built on this idea. So, we have to get these writers to respect our authority as experienced problem-solvers.
We’re not meant to be authorities on content. Often times, we know less than our writers. In his article, Chris Striker, a peer writing tutor from Dickinson College, says that because we are peers, we lack the credibility given to instructors in regards to helping with a paper even though we are trained to tutor writing across the curriculum. Of course, some people think we’re all MENSA members, but usually we’re as clueless as Emma Woodhouse running a dating service when it comes to the writers’ content.
There is nothing wrong with confirming our writers’ suspicions that we have little knowledge of the content. If they come to the Writing Center with writing questions, they will receive feedback from tutors who know about writing. If they want help with content or field specific conventions, advise that the writers speak with their professors. See if we have any reference books available. Refer to internet resources such as the DePaul Library’s website. Whatever the case, show the writers that no matter how much or little we know of their content, we’ll arm them with resources to use as they revise.
In regards to my finance aficionado, I knew he came to the session because he wanted to write better and successfully complete his program. I told him that I would help him, and that my brand of help would be collaborative. If he supplied his experience, I’d supply the means to break it down for the widest audience possible. Simply, I told him what I do know—writing across the curriculum and problem-solving—and he climbed down off his pedestal so that we could talk and troubleshoot his concerns together.