I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between readers and writers. This is mainly because Evergreen’s Writing Center is in the process of updating its mission statement, revising it to a “mission and core values” statement. As tutors, we serve Evergreen’s population by providing objective feedback on particular pieces of writing, whether that writing is academic or personal. As we’ve begun the revision process, a question came up regarding the difference between a reader and a writer, and what role both of those actors play in the process of a tutoring session.
I have argued that the role of the tutor is rarely one of a writer. According to dictionary.com:
One who writes, especially as an occupation.
The role of a writer, then, is to actually write text in the literal sense of the word. However, in tutoring, the role of the writer changes somewhat — as a tutor, writers are expected to be able to correct on an expert level any problems related to grammar, sentence structure, paper structure, and flow, as well as having a fairly good command of different styles of writing. Certainly, these expectations are not beyond the ability of a writing tutor, but it is one part of this, the idea of writers working on an expert level, that doesn’t quite jibe with the role of an undergraduate writing tutor on a predominantly undergraduate campus (I have tutored graduate students, but this is beyond the scope of this entry).
Now, compare this against dictionary.com’s definition of a reader. I have only included part of this definition, since these parts apply to the discussion:
1. One who reads. Specifically: (a) One whose distinctive office is to read prayers in a church. (b) (University of Oxford, Eng.) One who reads lectures on scientific subjects. –Lyell. (c) A proof reader. (d) One who reads manuscripts offered for publication and advises regarding their merit.
2. One who reads much; one who is studious.
This definition immediately comes much closer to the role of a writing tutor: “one who reads manuscripts and advises regarding their merit; one who reads much, one who is studious”. A tutor’s job is not to critique a work word by word or phrase by phrase; rather, our job is to provide advice to those who come in regarding the state of their paper and make suggestions for improvement, along with the process of asking questions about the work and providing an objective viewpoint for any piece of writing. In addition, the term reader does not implicitly imply any sort of expertise. In actuality, the term reader is much fairer to apply to writing tutors, because we do not engage in the physical act of writing, but instead appreciate it and assist it from a higher level.
As a result, it seems to me appropriate to apply the idea of a writing tutor as reader to my part in recasting the Writing Center’s mission statement. The word comes much closer to the ideal that we try to promote as an active part of the College’s writing community.