What Does a Consultant Do? by Greg Cannioto

posted Sep 27, 2017, 4:36 PM by Writing Center
Those who work in the Writing Center get called many things: tutor, editor, consultant; consulting is the closest term to what we actually do, but what does that really mean? In many cases, a job title describes what someone does, but I find as a consultant that it’s more indicative of what we don’t do. We aren’t tutors, as writers who come to the Writing Center should already be familiar with the concepts we go over. We aren’t editors, as we don’t proofread or make direct changes to papers. One could start to think we came up with our title by process of elimination, but I think consultant remains a particularly apt term. We don’t edit or tutor or proofread; we consult. We impart our experience on individuals, not just the work they bring in. In fact, an ideal consultation will focus more on the writer’s strengths and weaknesses, and how the author can improve their writing, than on any one essay or story an author brings to the Writing Center.

Conceptually, I think of the consultant position the same way I think of psychology. In the field of psychology, there are two major client-driven positions: the psychologist and the psychiatrist. The psychologist uses his or her knowledge of the human mind to analyze and improve the mental health of the patient. They do this with words and actions, and ideally they can cure mental health problems, and foster healthy ways of thinking, all through what they have been taught and learned through years of experience. The consultant is the same way, they too try to foster proper writing habits and improve the overall strength of the writer’s skills, and thus their writing. The consultant works from a top-down approach, and looks more at the bigger picture. Back to the analogy of psychology, the psychiatrist also works to improve the mental health of their patients. In this regard, they can prescribe medicine to target specific issues that a patient might have. Alternatively, they might try to use a single type of medication that effects the whole brain, blanketing every issue with a single fix. Tutors or editors can focus on what they see as specific issues and change them, with proofreaders often not even working with the author, but making changes independent of them. In these cases, medicine and the editing of papers is more focused on specifics instead of the big picture. Of course, the metaphor isn’t perfect, as anyone who spends a lot of time in a Writing Center could easily claim the consultants are the ones who should be on medication. It’s a real case of the patients running the system.

At any rate, there isn’t a perfect definition of what makes a consultant a consultant, and every Writing Center is different, but we all aspire to the improvement of the writer over the single paper. After all, who cares about getting an A on one paper if you can learn how to get an A on all your papers? We also recognize, similar to both psychologists and psychiatrists, that every writer operates on a case-by-case basis, and there is no script or book that works every time. We aren’t telemarketers who say the same practiced lines day in and day out, (or we shouldn’t be) but one writer working with another writer, and using our experience as a peer to recognize aspects both strong and weak writing. We see the same strengths and weaknesses we see in our own papers, and we can use this recognition to improve the writing of those we consult with, but also with a bit of self-reflection our own writing.

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