Department of English

Writing Center

Helpful Tips for Engaging in Effective Writing Center Dialogue

Your questions may be more helpful to an inexperienced writer if they are phrased in everyday language rather than in technical, academic terminology. Phrase your speech into ordinary and accessible language. For inexperienced writers, the specialized “academic” language that describes elements of composition is often too vague and too intimidating to be useful. But tutors can phrase some of the same concepts in everyday vocabulary. For example:

Academic Terminology Everyday Language
How can you illustrate your topic sentence? Why do you think this? What makes you think so? Where have you seen this?
What transitional device could link these two ideas? What’s the connection between this and that? Why did you say this before that?
What is your thesis? What’s the main idea you want me to come away knowing? What is it that you want me to think or do on the basis of what you said?

The tutor has a unique opportunity to assist a writer in his or her discovery of a paper’s strengths and weaknesses, thus helping the writer form a better argument. The kinds of questions and responses the tutor asks can encourage the writer to think more critically and remark on his or her preliminary ideas about the writing.

What the Writing Needs How to get at the Issue
General Amplification Tell me more about…
Clarification I’m not sure what mean by _____; would you explain that a bit to me?
Specification Which one did you have in mind? Where did that happen? For example? Like what? Would you give me an instance, please?
Qualification What exceptions can you think of? When was this not true?
Paraphrase or summary Let me see if I can sum up what you just said. In this paragraph, you said that… You told me that…

Charts and examples taken from:
Meyer, Emily, and Louise Z. Smith. The Practical Tutor. New York: Oxford UP, 1987.