A blog for tutors to share their ideas, experiences, and insights.

Category Archives: Duke University

My favorite part of this multi-university blog has been the dialogue.  This dialogue takes place in the comments on posts and in the ways we respond to each others’ ideas.  Sometimes its imperceptible, but I believe most of us read a few of our peers’ entries before writing.  Through that process we pick up on some new ideas that we might build on in our own entries.  We also pick up on the tone for the blog, based on what others have written.  In that way the blog was a blank slate upon which we could create our own discussion space.

That dialogue has other imperceptible effects.  When we write, we write for an audience of peers rather than for a professor’s grade.  I believe this is reflected in the informal tone we often strike and the pop culture media we add.  We write much differently when we know that others will read and perhaps even think about our posts.

Although I enjoyed the dialogue of the blog, I didn’t find it terribly helpful for serious analysis or reflection.  It was more like a casual reminder to think about something related to writing tutoring.  I think the heightened interaction might come at the expense of deeper thinking.


On the first day of class, when I found out we would be blogging, I was a little bit taken aback. I had never blogged before, neither personally nor academically, yet, here I was, having to share my thoughts very publicly, with the added complication that the majority of my blogging audience would be complete strangers.

When it was time for me to actually sit down and write my first blog post, I struggled a lot with the tone of the writing. A blog is certainly a lot more conversational than a formal writing assignment. However, at the same time, I still wanted to make sure that my ideas were written in a way that would convince my peers to accept what i was saying. Looking at the evolution of my posts over the semester, I would say that they became more and more conversational as time went on. As we “got to know each other” through this virtual community, it became much easier to just let ideas flow onto the screen and not be afraid to let my personality shine through my posts.


The fact that most of us do not know each other added an additional dimension to the blogging experience. When I was writing posts, I was less concerned about being judged for my ideas because I knew that I was presenting them to people I would never meet face-to-face. Similarly, I think the anonymity allowed us to offer constructive advice in our comments to others’ posts. While I was always conscious to remain polite, i found it much easier to voice my opinion if I disagreed with something someone had said in a post. The conversational nature of blogging also helped with this, as I was able to disagree without sounding too harsh.

Overall, my first experience at an academic blog was definitely one that I enjoyed. The blog always felt very collaborative and it was always reassuring to have people support my ideas or helpful to have fellow tutors offer techniques and tools that I can use to better my own tutoring. TM2 has opened my eyes to a whole new type of learning and one that I look forward to engaging in in the future.

The Paramedic Method utilizes a number of steps to help writers analyze and clean their prose. For each sentence, writers should:

  • Circle prepositions.
  • Draw a box around instances of passive voice.
  • Locate the action in the sentence.
  • Change the action to a verb if appropriate.
  • Ensure that the subject is the “doer.”
  • Eliminate redundancies and unnecessary wordiness.

Here is a pictorial example of the Paramedic Method in use. (Image taken from the Purdue Online Writing Lab):


Tutors should follow Jordan’s previously described “3 Step Method” when utilizing the Paramedic Method in their sessions. Consider the following hypothetical scenario:

Tutor – “Your argument is sound and nicely supported by your content. However, I wasn’t able to reach that conclusion without reading through your paper a few times. You should consider making your message clearer to your reader.”

Writer – “Okay, how do I go about doing that?”

Tutor – “The Paramedic Method! We apply this method, which helps pare down wordiness and improve clarity, to each sentence of your paper. We’ll walk through it together, and then you’ll be able to apply it to your entire paper.”

Writer – “Sounds good.”

Tutor – “So let’s start with the introduction…”

Following this, the tutor and writer apply the Paramedic Method to the first paragraph of the paper. Then, the tutor points out another instance in which the Paramedic Method will be helpful and asks the writer to employ the Paramedic Method to that section. Finally, the tutor points to a general area of the paper that needs improvement and asks the writer to apply the method on his own.

This method is especially nice because it encompasses a wide range of sentence level errors. It is not always necessary, especially if the writer seems to only have issues with certain errors, like comma splices or the passive voice. But if the writer’s prose is messy or unnecessarily dense, then the Paramedic Method provides a channel through which both tutor and writer can explore the possible rationale behind that style of writing.

When I enrolled in this Writing Tutors class, I sincerely believed that I would be able to contribute to UWT by appealing to undergraduates interested in science and foreign students from Chinese speaking countries. Why? Well, I’m Chinese and I like science. However, I slowly realized that my future tutoring sessions may not go in the way that I expect if I maintain that mentality. Whenever, I attempt to speak Chinese to our foreign students, they would always talk back in English. That was weird because I thought that they would speak in a language that is more familiar to them. An incident that I experienced a weeks ago involved a foreign student commenting about my “lacking grammar”. That…was…interesting. However, I came away from that conversation with a new perspective of tutoring; one that is based more on mutual understanding than a typical tutor/ tutee relationship. These individuals are taking the initiative to come to me for assistance. That act exemplifies the hierarchy of the tutor/tutee relationship. There is no need for me to make premeditated assumptions. I have to be the professional and give the writer sound honest advice. I am not supposed to make assumptions and biased argument. This applies not merely to Chinese and Science oriented writers but to all writers. I am to look at the whole picture: student and essay. The student does not reject American culture but rather embrace it. We should encourage them to continue to do so.

American culture is less of this:


And oddly….more of this…


The papers and pieces that we encounter are not our own.  They belong solely to the writers who come to us for our feedback and our guidance on how to strengthen their work.  Although it can be frustrating to take the backseat—even when we think it would sound so much better with a different verb or a particular structure—the nondirective and hands-off approach also relieves us of the need to support every opinion expressed in a paper.  Although we help with the papers, we can rest easy knowing that they do not become our papers and that the opinions expressed need not represent our opinions.

For example, I imagine a writer sharing with me a paper arguing for the irrelevance of religion in a modern, scientifically advanced society.  My Christian faith is a fundamental part of my identity and undergirds my purpose in life, and I feel joyful whenever I find people deeply engaged in their faith journeys (whether it be on a Christian or other path; I believe they all lead to the same mountaintop, if you know that metaphor).  However, I acknowledge that I can help a writer strengthen their anti-religion argument despite the fact that it is antithetical to one of my core beliefs.  Hopefully I would still help the writer reverse outline their argument, consider the organization of their argument, and point out any patterns of error.  Making an argument for the opposing side deepens your understanding of an issue, and might even sway your opinion or strengthen your prior convictions.  Ultimately we can take comfort in the fact that the name in the paper’s header is not ours; we help writers express their arguments, but their argument need not match up with ours.

Sometimes, I find myself sitting in front of my computer, first draft on the screen, cracking my knuckles to dive into revision but always finding some excuse to delay. As the minutes tick by, I dream that this:

is what my editing process could be like (at least, until 5:00 that is). Oh how wonderful it would be if editing were as simple as placing a pointy hat on your head and humming along as brooms sweep aside the confusing sentences and brushes scrub away the comma splices and buckets of water move the conclusion to the introduction and fill in the gaps. But alas, revision needs to be done, and shortcutting the process, or ignoring it entirely, often leads to disaster (5:00 onwards).

Conveying this message to writers in the writing center who may be reluctant to revise is important. There is a clear distinction between “line editing” and “global editing,” the latter which is usually significantly more difficult. But it is important to assure the writer that global editing can make an okay paper good, and a good paper fantastic. And it doesn’t have to be that excruciating. If the paragraphs in the piece don’t quite relate to the thesis in a logical way, then suggest deconstructing the piece and looking at the heart of each paragraph. Chances are in talking it out the writer will make a connection he or she had in mind all along but couldn’t quite articular in words. The talk could go something like this:

(Just finished reading the paper out loud)

Tutor:  Great! So, what are your thoughts?

Writer: Well, this is a really really rough draft. And I feel like I don’t really support my thesis. The paragraphs don’t seem to connect, but I have no idea where to start or what to do.

Tutor: Well let’s take a look. How about we go through each paragraph and figure out what the message of that paragraph is. We’ll write that down on this piece of paper here along with your thesis, and we’ll see if there are any connecting threads. What do you think, shall we give it a try?

Go through the piece, paragraph by paragraph, and have the writer summarize succinctly the point he or she is trying to convey in that paragraph. Perhaps either the tutor or writer could read it out loud, or the writer could simply summarize. At the end, look at the progression of the argument—does the chronology make sense, do the arguments relate back to the thesis, are there points that need to be included or excluded? Sometimes, taking away the extra words on the page and focusing on the bare skeleton is incredibly revealing—and helpful.

The process may not be magic, but it can feel like magic when the writer has that aha moment!

Résumés are not the first thought that comes to mind when considering tutorship in writing.  But writing resumes (I’ll go a little wild and write “résumés” without the accents) demands a very particular style and vocabulary; more so than most writing tasks, you need someone to “show you the ropes” when writing a resume.  My cultural informant for this particular style was an RA down the hall who became a good friend.  She showed all the best attitudes of a writing tutor, whether working on a job application document or an analytic essay.  She did what Muriel Harris in “Talking in the Middle” calls “assisting with affective concerns”—addressing the stress and self-doubt that are often at the root of problems with writing.  In addition to discussing issues of verb choice, organization, and formatting, her “tutorial assistance [gave me] confidence about [myself] and [my] writing” and her “encouragement result[ed] in increased motivation to continue expending effort on a paper” (35).

My RA and friend set a good example for how to ease affective concerns while working with a writer on any type of assignment.  We can look to reassure writers that, yes, their points come across clearly and that, no, they do not sound stupid.  I think this cheerleader function can indeed increase the writer’s commitment to their work and inspire them to revise and edit with less stress and more interest.  This attitude of encouragement aids in our project of improving writers rather than merely polishing papers; we empower them to improve the paper at hand, and to write with more confidence and comfort in the future.