By Michael Schoch, Writing Specialist

In his 1994 essay “The Use of Force: Medical Ethics and Center Practice,” Jay Jacoby notes that writing centers are like doctor’s offices: places where people come for advice from experts.

Jacoby also notes that writing tutors are like doctors, in that they should never force students to take advice. Instead, Jacoby suggests, tutors must ensure that the decisions student writers make “are their decisions . . . that they can justify on grounds that are important to them.”

With this analogy in mind, Jacoby recommends writing tutors apply the concept of informed consent to their sessions, by making sure students understand “the nature of their actions (i.e., the decisions they make as writers), alternative actions (i.e., other decisions that could be made), and their respective consequences.”

Put another way, tutors should act as guides who help students become better writers by helping them understand and improve their decision-making when writing.

How to develop your own writing process

One way that I try to help students understand the nature and consequences of their writing decisions is by helping them develop a writing process.

At the LEC, we break the writing process into these general steps:

  • Understanding the assignment
  • Reading and researching
  • Brainstorming
  • Drafting
  • Revising and editing

Approaching your writing assignments in this structured way can help you save time, reduce stress, and develop confidence, even if your approach differs a little bit each time. The important part is focusing on how you go through the steps.

How to use your writing process to improve your papers

Once you make the process your own, you empower yourself to find practical solutions to common challenges, like using standard grammar or establishing an academic voice.

For example, some students struggle to write grammatically correct sentences because they are trying to write a rough draft while simultaneously editing their grammar or citations. It’s hard to make your sentences clear if you have not truly figured out what you want to say. In this case, unclear grammar is not a result of misunderstanding grammar conventions—it’s a symptom of a lack of drafting.

A good solution is to speak your ideas aloud, while taking notes. Another solution is having a friend transcribe. If you hear yourself saying, “What I really mean is . . .” you know you’re on the right track. Write down everything that comes into your minds in order to pinpoint exactly what you want to say. Once you can see your words on paper, you can change, question, and explore them.

How to develop autonomy and confidence

Developing a writing process enables students to demonstrate authority over their own work. Jacoby contends that keeping students informed about their options “respects their autonomy” and prevents them from feeling coerced into making changes to satisfy a tutor or professor. Professors may be experts on course content, and tutors may be experts on composition, but students are the experts of their own writing processes and goals.

Tutors can’t tell students the “right” way to write a paper. Tutors can’t even tell students the right way to deploy grammar or form sentences.

To make the choices that are “right” for their process and their assignment, students must become authorities over their own academic experience by staying informed and alert in their classes, and by making contact with their professors.

This is the beauty of informed consent in writing tutoring—while there is no way for tutors to “tell” students what they have to do, there are near infinite options for helping them discover what it is they can and want to do.

A version of this article appears on pages 18-20 of the Fall 2018 issue of Luminaria, under the title “Informing and Empowering with the Writing Process.”