Interview with a Writing Center tutor

by Matthew M. Lug - Newspeak Staff

The following interview report was originally written for the Peer Tutor Training course which is required in order to become a tutor in the Writing Center. I am currently working in the Writing Center, and I have found that most of what I describe is similar with all of the tutors there.

Paul Yeaman never really decided to become a peer tutor in the Writing Center, it just happened. He was invited to take the training course, and afterwards becoming a peer tutor seemed like a good idea.

From the tutoring experience, he has greatly improved his own writing ability. Prior to his work in the Writing Center he was unable to concentrate on revising his writing. He would usually just write something through completely, and leave it at that. By examining other people's writing, he enhanced his ability to critically examine his own writing, allowing him to apply what he had learned from tutoring. The tutoring experience also helped him to gain more confidence while working with other people. He felt a little intimidated in his first tutoring sessions, due to the nature of the task at hand. He felt slightly overwhelmed by the responsibility of guiding someone else’s writing. The diversity of subjects that the papers covered, as well as the degree of specialization and complexity found in projects and graduate work made him feel uncomfortable and underqualified, but he soon found that a basic examination of the writing by someone not entirely familiar with the subject matter could help to break even the most complex project down into something more manageable.

From his tutoring experience, Paul has found that most people who go to the Writing Center are willing to put a serious effort into improving their writing. Some people have trouble at first, don't know what to do, and almost expect the tutor to do all the work on the assignment. They often aren't trying to get out of doing any work, since they have shown up at the Writing Center in the first place, but instead they have a limited knowledge of how a tutoring session works. Paul has found that this problem is rather easy to overcome, and usually only requires the tutor to get the student talking about the assignment. The purpose of the tutor is only to guide the student, and the student will usually understand this after the tutor initiates a conversation in which the student provides most of the information. However, when the student doesn't understand the assignment well enough to talk about it, Paul recommends that the student ask the professor for help, since the professor is most qualified to help in this situation.

Some of the more difficult situations that Paul has encountered in tutoring have been when the student was an ESL (English as a Second Language) student who knew what to say, but had difficulty figuring out how to say it. He has found that communication is very important in these situations, as it is in a situation where the student doesn't know what to say. These situations require good communication skills, which a tutor enhances through the tutoring experience.

Paul uses a rather simple method with his tutoring sessions. He first sits next to the student, so both he and the student can work from the same copy of the paper. He has found that this arrangement can be more comfortable for the student, since it implies a kind of equality between tutor and student, and makes conversation easier. Paul also tries to keep the student from being intimidated by not using a red pen. He prefers to just use whatever pen he has near him, and at the time of the interview he was holding a pen that belonged to a student, which he didn't even realize until I asked about red pens.

Once the tutoring session is set up, Paul begins by looking over the paper quickly as a whole, and learning what the topic of the paper is. He then reads the paper out loud sentence by sentence, and points out small grammatical errors while the student is following along. He looks at the structure, and watches the content of the paper. After this, he begins to critique the paper as a whole, in terms of content and overall structure. He sometimes has to modify this approach based on the size of the paper, or how much the student has worked on the paper.

Paul Yeaman is one of several tutors who work in the Writing Center. The Writing Center is open from 9am to 12pm and 12:30pm to 3:30pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 12:30pm to 3:30pm on Wednesday. If you want help with a paper or project, sign up for an appointment at the door, or just walk in if the tutor isn't busy. Bring as much as you have of your paper or project with you, as well as any related materials that might be necessary. For more information, go to the Writing Center's web page at or send e-mail to

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