Red Pens

It was a typical Tuesday afternoon... or so I thought.
3 appointments in a row, coffee in my cup, and smiley faces on all the consultants.

Then it happened...
A young enthusiastic man entered the room. My 11 o'clock.
He had not been in before--so I gave him the paper work and we got started.
I asked him what he wanted to focus on and he replied,
"just grammar and punctuation. You can use my red pen and circle whatever you find."

A red pen?! Red pens scare me! What if I circle the wrong thing? What if I make him cry?
I am not qualified to use a red pen. Pencil maybe--but not the deadly red ink.

Plus, it goes against what the BSU Writing Center is all about.
This is supposed to be collaborative work! I replied,
"Haha... we work with you to help fix things. Let's read through some stuff you have questions on and I can see if I can come up with an answer!"
He was confused. "I thought you would be mean and mark my paper all up!" he said, looking at me.
"Nope. I feel like it will help you learn better if we work together." I said with a smile.
He understood. He understood!! I could tell it made sense to him. But this idea of working "together" had never been brought to his attention. At the end of the session he said he had learned a lot, and he would be back with a final draft. :D (yayayayay)

After that, a young girl came into the center who had never been in before. After we chatted and filled out the necessary initial paperwork she started rummaging through her bag.
"I know I have a red pen in here somewhere... it really helps me if you just circle everything in red and then I go home and fix it. That's what my teacher does."

Another request for a red pen?! No! Don't do it! I started to get nervous.

To her dismay she could not find it... so I grabbed a pencil and said, "Pencil is usually my style anyway. I would like to think of these sessions as 'collaborative' rather than me just telling you what you did wrong." I smiled. She smiled.
"Oh, that works!" She then said. And we started to look through her paper together as she read it out loud.

The rest of the session moved smoothly and at the end she seemed satisfied at the amount we had covered. No more mention of this said "Red Pen".
We all lived happily ever after. The End.

Is anyone else scared of red pens? Does any other center use them frequently?
I don't think BSU does at all.
We like out blue and orange; old school; plane gray graphite; no. 2, pencils. :)
No scary red ink.

Thanks for reading my story.
Signing off for now--

Lizzy :)


  1. Anonymous10:32 AM

    Red pens? Nooooooo! We don't even write on papers at all, pencil or not.

  2. I don't understand why red pens have gotten a bad rap. Such reactions revert to fear, instilling more fear by their mere mention, when it fact if one doesn't make a big deal by using them, the "fear factor" disappears and using them becomes as innocuous as using any other writing implement. One can choose to write on a paper using any color, pen, pencil - or using nothing at all. No one usage need be more right or wrong than any other type of usage.

    I have students request I use pens because - are you ready for this answer? - it's got the most highly visible ink. And writing using a highly visibly ink - formerly red because it was the most prolifically offered buy really it could be any color, couldn't it? - whether the student uses that ink, or the tutor, draws attention back to the notes that serve as a reminder of what was discussed in the session.

    I say, take back the red pen. Remember that it's just a color, and by not making it a big deal, it becomes not a big deal.

  3. Cindy Johanek included an interesting mini-study comparing ink color "effects" in her book Composing Research, a book worth reading for many reasons. :)

  4. Anonymous1:35 PM

    I don't like the idea of writing on a writer's paper with red pen or otherwise, but I agree that red pen gets a reputation that it doesn’t deserve. (It’s just a color, right? It is chosen because it is easy to see, not because it is soul-crushing.) Personally, I am able think more clearly when I am writing, so while listening to the writer I usually take notes on a notepad. During a consultation, I try to make sure that the writer has a pencil handy to take their own notes, and if the urge to “fix” something gets too strong for me, I put away my own pencil entirely.
    It’s great, Lizzy, that in both of your consultations you were able to help the writers to understand what the writing center does and that both consultations went well. It can be a struggle to maintain the balance between a collaborative and a “productive” environment in a consultation. I think that taking the time to explain a little bit about what we do is a great idea.
    So, my question is what sort of strategies do you all have for working with a writer who wants the “red pen” treatment and who isn’t understanding what the writing center does due to past experiences, cultural background, etc? I have had some consultations like this where I tried to explain what the writing center does and have been met with the same reply of, “Yeah, but I just want you to fix my paper!” So PeerCentered People, what do you suggest?


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