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Writing Center

Tips for a Successful Online Consultation

I was going to open with a phrase about the “new normal in these unprecedented times,” but let’s face it, you’ve come to accept that everything is changing. Especially relevant to a college community, COVID-19 has forced the world to rework the way it handles in-person commitments. 

The Wheaton College Writing Center is not exempt from that change and has transitioned to an online-only format. There are certainly advantages to this, such as expanded Writing Center hours and spatial flexibility since consultations can be done from the dormroom. However, talking to a stranger about a personal writing project can seem more difficult through a screen. 

As Writing Center consultants, we are working to create a personable online environment. However, there are also things that you can do to get more out of your online consultation experience. 

Here are some of my tips as a veteran consultant who has weathered the transition from in-person to online. Preparing for your consultation is a great way to feel satisfied with your Writing Center experience. 

1. Identify strengths and weaknesses.

Make a list of strengths and weaknesses for your paper to share with your consultant. This will help them to narrow in on the things that need work, potentially saving time.This will also help you gain a better understanding of your own paper, possibly sparking ideas for revisions before the appointment begins. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Writing Center Blog has some more tips like this that you can consider. 

2. Set an agenda.

Come with a short agenda for the consultation that includes what you think the paper needs most at the top of the list. If you know your paper well enough, creating a loose agenda can speed up the process of prioritizing concerns. Saving time means more room in the appointment to work on the things that will truly help you. Remember: the consultation should be guided by your needs as a writer. When you communicate your needs,  your consultant can help you more efficiently.

Checklist with a dry-erase marker on top

3. Read your paper.

Decide how you want your paper read (out loud, silently, in parts, or the whole thing), and who will read (you or your consultant). Let your consultant  know what you’re comfortable with. Thinking about this in advance can help you feel more at ease as you share your in-progress essay. 

4. Check your tech.

Make sure your video and microphone are working before the consultation starts. It’s tricky to do a consultation without video or sound, and troubleshooting technology can take away time from your consultation. 

Headphones on a laptop keyboard

5. Introduce yourself.

Though your consultant will ask you questions at the start of your appointment, feel free to offer additional information or ask them questions! Creating a sense of familiarity and trust with your consultant can help you feel comfortable sharing a piece of writing that might be vulnerable. 

6. Find common ground.

Your consultant is a student too. They have felt the same writing insecurity, exhaustion, and frustration with a paper not taking shape in the way they wanted. They are not there to judge you or secretly look down on you for writing a “bad” paper. In fact, consultants learn to be better writers through helping other students. As an exercise in empathy for your consultant, you can read Dr. Lisa Bell’s article, “Rethinking What to Preserve as Writing Centers Move Online.” This article can give you a look into the consultant’s journey toward creating a great online Writing Center experience for you. 

Final Thoughts 

Though the appointment format of the Writing Center has changed, the Writing Center staff still wants to welcome you to a space where you can share your writing. Preparing ahead of time can improve the quality of your consultation, so feel free to try out a few of these tips. And keep in mind that everyone (even your consultant!) is still adjusting to the unfamiliar world of online learning. 

Happy writing!

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