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Meeting with students individually about their writing can offer timely, appropriate guidance and lead to a better product. It is important that students come to a conference prepared with a draft and questions, and that they do most of the talking about their ideas. Conferences may focus primarily on helping students create cogent arguments and organize their ideas. (The higher order concerns of ideas, organization, development, and clarity need to be dealt with before matters of style, grammar, and mechanics can be efficiently resolved.) The instructor may get the students to explain the following: how well they understand the assignment; what kind of help they need; what is the thesis, what kind of evidence is available. It is probably good to decide on two or three important things to work on and to give the student some positive comments as well as an honest assessment of their progress.

Writing Conference Top Ten Checklist (Rob Weir)

You should come to the conference with notes about any of the following that seem to be problematic in your paper, and with plans for beginning to solve those problems.

  • It is polite to point? Does your paper have a thesis and clear focus?

  • Sometimes it pays to be narrow minded. Do you limit your paper to important and connected aspects to develop?

  • Sink rocks, don’t sink stones. Do you fully discuss each aspect rather than mentioning things?

  • Oh, yeah, says who? Do you make it clear who you are quoting? You can’t accomplish this with a footnote; you must identify the speaker in the text. Example: According to the historian Mary Beth Norton, “The prosperity of the late Gilded Age largely ignored industrial workers.”

  • So what? Do you analyze the material you present and use historical evidence rather than unrelated trivia to develop you ideas? Also you must tell your reader why something is important or your supporting information is just random material.

  • Finish your veggies . . . and your thoughts! Do you tell the entire story and explain why you have included what you chose? Your audience needs to know what is in your mind.

  • One good example is worth a thousand colorful adjectives. Do you have at least one good example every time you make a point? Don’t just tell the reader that something was really bad; explain what made it bad.

  • Who the hell are “the people?” Do you avoid general categories that are so vague that they are meaningless. Example: “The Indians” is a vague phrase: “Cherokees in southwest Georgia in the 1820’s” is specific.

  • Don’t put socks in your underwear drawer. Do you keep related material in the same place? Thoroughly discuss a topic before you move on to another point.

  • Proofread and edit. This is number one because so few actually do it. Careless errors, clunky phrases, spelling mistakes, and deplorable grammar abound simply because too many writers think they’re done once they put the final period onto the page. Not so, read your work again. If what you’ve written sounds wrong to you, it’s not going to sound any better to your audience.


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