Skip to main content

Its All in the Name

Most WC writings use many different names for those of us who work in the writing centers, working with students with various writing abilities, a multitude of writing difficulties, and at any stage of the writing process. Some say it doesn’t matter what we our called, but I disagree. What we are called or call ourselves will have an influence on what is expected of us and the session that each student is involved in.

While doing the reading for class, it occurred to me that there is a difference between tutoring and consulting, between a tutor and a consultant. Knowing these differences can help us in our interactions with the students. And these differences can affect how the student reacts and responds when we are trying to help them.

Let’s look at the word tutor first. By definition, tutoring is to teach or instruct especially privately. Another word that can be used in defining what a tutor does is the word guide. A tutor gives guidance. All of these give the implication that it is a process, one that happens over time. Consistent, regularly, and scheduled also come to mind. All of this meaning that tutoring is more than just one session of meeting with someone. It is where someone is lacking in knowledge in a certain area, and needs to be instructed and given the information that they do not have to become efficient in the that subject. So in this case, a tutor is someone who is an expert, a teacher, someone who can instruct a person for a duration of time as in which the individual will be apt in their knowledge.

Here is a good definition of consult, “…to seek from a presumably qualified person or source advice, opinion.” A consultant is the one who gives expert or professional advice. And a consultation is a conference at which advice is given or views are exchanged. All of this gives the impression of a limited time frame. It also gives the collaborative feel that is a main theme in academic writing of what is done in the writing center. It also does not give the authoritative sense that tutor implies, where the instructor is superior to the person they are helping. It is mentioned over and over that the majority of students have fears coming into the WC. If it was expressed that they were coming in to ‘consult’ about their papers and writing process, would this not help alleviate these fears? Would this not insure that collaborative activities would be more likely to happen?

I am not ignoring that there is a need for tutoring, and that it can be done at the WC. But what if we gave the students this choice? If they felt that they just needed support for one paper at different stages, or in one specific area, then they could come in and get advice on that part. But if there was strong indication that they were lacking in knowledge of basic skills needed to be writing at a standard level, then tutoring would be offered on a regular basis with one certain person. So both services are offered separately, giving both the consultant and tutor a clear idea of the basic expectations of each session.

So basically, in the WC we are doing both tutoring and consulting. It just seems that if it were specified which one was needed and which one we were attempting, it would be better for all involved. Clarity is always a good thing, especially when it comes to writing, right?


  1. We actually had a podcast on the topic of titles, Val: . It is an interesting subject.

  2. I agree with your comment about naming. It is true that naming for the WC staff is a certain kind of branding, which allows people to easily identify whatever service is being provided. People will know what to expect. If members of the staff are called tutors, then people will know that the service is conducted in an academic setting. However, if they are named consultants, I feel like people will misinterpret the intent of the service. It sounds a bit vague without the type of consulting mentioned. The word consultant means a person who gives professional or expert advice. Not ever member of the WC are certified or are professors or instructors. To keep things simple for students, I would recommend that WC staff remain as tutors and leave the name consultant for business people and stock brokers.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Enough with the Prosti----- already

While I admit I was once intrigued by the prostitute-consultant analogy, not by what Scott Russell had to say about it but by some of the ideas we threw around in class the other day, I can honestly say, now, that I am beginning to move away from the metaphor. While I once connected prostitution and the writing center through their brief meetings and levels of intimacy, I now question the nature of those meetings and the levels of intimacy available, and like David said in class, I agree that the comparison is a stretch. Here’s where I struggle with a connection between meeting a stranger, a prostitute, for sex, and meeting a consultant at the writing center. Although the ‘client,’ ‘student,’ or whatever, meets with a stranger for a limited period time to meet a specific desire, the level of intimacy between sex with a prostitute and a writing consultation differs. It is my experience that consultations between peers can be genuinely intimate as one discusses personal thoughts—there i…

IWCA Forum: Peer Tutor => What do we call ourselves: the poll!

I have posted a poll in the IWCA forums: IWCA Forum: Peer Tutor => What do we call ourselves: the poll! It is a part of an earlier discussion that kind of petered out about the titles used for writing center workers. Please take a moment and vote! If you don't have an account on the forum, you can register for one by clicking on the "Register" link (next to the rocket icon in the top-right of the page.) Don't forget to state your institutional affiliation when you request and account. (That's how the IWCA Forum keeps out spam accounts.)