Students often seek writing tutors for help on stuff like punctuation and grammar. Quite frequently, (you) the (good) tutor will read their paper and soon realize that there are much bigger problems with the writing. The paper does have grammatical errors and typos, but fails to meet the requirements of the assignment. Most of the time, comes through in form of bad thesis statements. When I say ‘bad’, I don’t mean crap ideas, but rather that the thesis statement has guided the rest of the paper down a path that doesn’t meet the assignment requirements. The paper itself may be excellent, but in the context of the assignment and how it will be graded, it falls flat. The writer doesn’t even realize this; they think a few commas here and there will get them a in the ballpark of a B+. You, the tutor, recognize the problem, but how does one go about correcting it?
First, get an idea of what the writer’s interpretation of the assignment is. Then, go back to the original prompt and compare the writer’s ideas with the prompt as well as the text (the writer might have different ideas than what they actually wrote down.) Let’s look at an example: the assignment is to analyze how current gun control laws affect the learning environment in the classroom. The writer has summarized gun control laws and his views of them, but hasn’t linked them to how they affect students.
Tutor: What is the main point of this paper?
Writer: Facts show that crime is lower when people can conceal carry than when they can’t, and that students should be allowed to carry guns on campus because of this.
Tutor: Ok, so you’re trying to persuade someone that students should be allowed to have guns on campus?
Writer: Well, yeah.
Tutor: Ok, so how do current gun control laws affect students?
Writer: Well, they can’t bring guns into classrooms.
Tutor: Ok. What do you think makes a good student?
Writer: Well, someone who is productive, who can focus, and respectful to the professor and the rest of the class.
Tutor: Do you think that students will be more or less productive if they can carry guns?
Writer: More productive.
Tutor: Why would guns make a more productive environment?
Writer: Well, if someone is paranoid that someone will attack them, they can’t concentrate. When they can’t concentrate, it’s harder to learn.
At this point, we have found the basis for a strong thesis statement that we were looking for, as well as some backing evidence that can be used in the body for support. Note that tutor made the writer say their thoughts, not assuming that what makes a good student to them is the same for the writer. This eliminated the possibility of guiding the writer so say something that they don’t want to; everything on the paper was completely generated by the writer. They also found a new, solid thesis idea (maybe not a statement yet, but at least we know what we are addressing) without the tutor even directly mentioning that the paper previously wasn’t about the correct topic.
From here, you the tutor should go back over the assignment with the writer, and explain how what they just said is what the assignment should look like. This might make the author upset, as the paper they worked so hard on is totally off topic, however, their hard work did not go completely in vain. A lot of the facts and sources used in the first draft are still relevant and can be applied to the new paper. A quick brainstorm between the tutor and writer can help reorganize the writer’s thoughts, and with ideas fresh in their head, the writer can quickly go back to making a solid, clear, and on track version 2.0 of their paper.

– Dave