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Resources for Consultants

This is a list of things we think that consultants may need or want to know about working in the Center; if you’re considering becoming a consultant, you may want to look around here, as well, as a way of gauging whether working in the Center would be something you’d enjoy.


Training Program

Training is a mandatory intensive weeklong program scheduled for August. Consultants are trained to participate in the daily operations and maintenance of the Center. In addition, consultants learn strategies and tasks in assisting students to become more effective readers, thinkers, and writers. Consultants must also attend bi-weekly training meetings offered throughout the academic year, held on alternate days. In preparation for training, Consultants should review the Center’s Handbook of Policies and Procedures to become acquainted with resources and best practices.

Handbook 2019

Bi-Weekly Meeting Schedule for Fall 2019 will be announced during Fall Training.

Connect Scheduling and Record Keeping Resources:

Creating Office Hours in Connect

Clearing Flags in Connect

Scheduling Office Hours in Connect

Work Attendance and Coverage


Consultants commit to working 8 to 12 hours per week in the Center, to be arranged around their academic schedules. Additional time will also be required for outreach and attendance at bi-weekly meetings.

Hours will be set at meetings prior to the start of each semester. Once set, consultants are responsible for seeing that their shifts are covered, finding replacements for themselves, if necessary, except in cases of extreme emergency.

Forms and Record-Keeping

Clear and thorough records of each consulting session must be maintained by all consultants. At the start of a session, the consultant must open the online form and carefully record details about the client and his or her reason for visiting the Center; consultants may use the Center’s laptops for this purpose, or they may bring their own to use. They should explain what they are doing as they work, and should offer to send copies of the form to the client and the client’s instructor.

In the section of the form titled “Session recap,” consultants should record, in precise detail, a narrative of what happened in the session. The purpose of the narrative is twofold: in the first place, to generate an accurate record of the session, beyond what might be captured in a brief outline; and, in the second place, to provide the consultant with an opportunity to reflect upon his or her performance. Session recaps will be periodically reviewed by staff to ensure that all consultants are fulfilling their responsibilities in this regard.

General Session Parameters

Clients are expected to be courteous and considerate of others in the Center, and it is each consultant’s responsibility to guide them to the right behavior. Clients should be mindful about noise control and the sharing of space. Clients may use their own laptops or tablets, but should be discouraged from smaller electronic devices; no consultant should ever agree, for example, to view a client’s paper on a phone screen, or to wait while a client sends a text message or makes a phone call. If necessary, consultants may call on staff to speak to a client; or, if no staff member is available, consultants may have the desk attendant call for security to come remove any client who refuses to behave according to the Center’s guidelines.

The following policies apply to all sessions; if a client arrives at a session in ignorance of our policies, the consultant should tactfully explain as soon as it becomes apparent that clarification is necessary:

  • Clients may not receive first-time assistance with papers due on the day of the session. However, the they may pursue follow-up work which was planned with the consultant during a previous session. The most common instance of this exception involves consultants assisting clients to check in-text citations and the list of works cited.
  • Clients are responsible for communicating clear and complete information about the projects they’re working on; such information includes, but is not limited to, the course syllabus, the instructor’s directions for completing the assignment, and any related texts and/or drafts. In the absence of the instructor’s actual assignment, clients must provide as much information as possible about their instructors’ expectations and directions, and they must bear full responsibility for any errors of understanding that occur as a result of their faulty recollection.
  • Consultants do not proofread or edit papers. They may assist with the review and identification of issues and patterns of error that need to be addressed, and they may offer clients information about how to deal with issues and correct errors; consultants may also assign tasks that provide clients with opportunities to improve their work, and thereby learn from their mistakes.
  • Time allotted for the tutorial is 40 minutes. Clients who wish to leave early should be discouraged from doing so, except in cases where a session is short by pre-arranged agreement. Under no circumstances should a consultant suggest to a client, without prior arrangement, to end a session early.
  • A visit to the Center does not guarantee a higher grade on the paper.

The Handbook of Policies and Procedures provides a session “script” for the standard sequence of events in a writing or reading session, and all consultants should become so familiar with this that they can anticipate what needs to happen next without stopping to think.

At the end of each session, clients should be encouraged to complete an online session evaluation form. At least two of the desktop computers in the Center will be designated for this purpose.


Citation & Documentation

Proper and correct attribution of source material is an important skill for all college students to learn, and many of them come to the Center for help with a variety of styles. As a consultant, it is your job to be prepared to help any student with any style. This does not mean that you have to be an expert in every possible style (that’s clearly not a reasonable expectation), but it does mean that you have to understand the basic principles that underlie all style guides so that, with the aid of reference materials available in the Center and online, you can help clients to teach themselves what they need to learn.

You should, however, be an expert in at least one style for each year of your service in the Center, and the most important ones to master are:

  • MLA: used for all CRWT & RIH courses, as well as many FYS, and all courses related to the study of languages and literature
  • APA: used for psychology, sociology, education, and other social sciences
  • Chicago/Turabian: used for history, and for a variety of other courses in the liberal arts and business

The latest style guides for each of these styles will be available on the bookshelf in the Center. Also, we have several copies of Rules for Writers, which includes short sections on MLA and APA; and we have quick-reference cards for MLA and APA styles.

In addition, the following websites may be useful to share with students:

  • Turabian Quick Guide  a site owned by the University of Chicago Press, which publishes the Chicago Manual of Style
  • IEEE Citation Reference  (.pdf document) outline of a style frequently used for engineering and computer science

Questioning Clients

Consulting is not simply a matter of giving advice.  In fact, one of the most important tasks of a consultant involves asking the kinds of questions that will elicit the information that’s needed from the client, and then listening carefully to the responses.  Good questioning technique gives reliable results, and the first rule of good technique is never to rush or force the process.  As the consultant, your remain in control–managing the session!–but not by trying to channel or direct the client’s thinking.  Instead, you seek to discover and work with the natural channels and directions of your clients’ thinking, helping them to make their meaning clear (above all to themselves).  This means that you have to be patient, and listen carefully for answers will tell you where to probe, and what to follow up on.

The best existing model for this type of questioning is the qualitative research interview.  Although the goals of qualitative research are quite different from the goals of a consultation, the method of ceding control over the answers is very much the same.

Here are some guides for qualitative research interviews which may help if you have questions about the methods:

9 Different Types of Questions (Kvale, 1996)

Interviewing in Qualitative Research

Conducting an In-Depth Interview (Guion, Diehl, & McDonald, 2001) 

Task Library

Consulting work essentially consists of face-to-face conversation, in all of its various forms: speaking, listening, questioning, answering, initiating, responding, turn-taking, waiting out silences, and reading nonverbal cues.  Conversation is how we do our work–how we facilitate change in the client.  However, if the client is to benefit, the conversation must be grounded, formalized in some way; and that is what the task is for, and that is why you should always find a way to include a task in the session.  The client isn’t going to ask for it, and my not be enthusiastic about performing it, but it is your responsibility to suggest a task and to try to persuade the client to undertake it with sincere effort.

Included here are descriptions and instructions for a variety of tasks that can be assigned during a session.  You’re expected to familiarize yourself with them so that, when it comes time in a session to assign a task, you will already know of an appropriate activity to suggest.  Not every task is suited for use in every session or by every consultant, and there are many more here than you will need, but it is your job to have a repertoire of task assignments ready, and always to be working to expand that repertoire.  Start by knowing 8-10 (at least one from each category) really well, and aim to add a new one at least every two weeks.  And if you know of or discover a useful task that isn’t on this list, please tell us so that we can add it.

Critical Thinking Tasks
Pre-Drafting Tasks
Drafting Tasks
Revising Tasks
Polishing Tasks
Reading Tasks
“Grammar” Tasks

Strategies for Difficult Sessions

What to do in a difficult session is probably most new consultants’ biggest concern.  The good news is that difficult sessions are relatively rare.  Most clients don’t want to be difficult, and will allow themselves to be guided away from the kind of escalation that characterizes a truly difficult session.  The secret to having as few difficult sessions as possible is the same as the secret to being a successful consultant: manage the session.  Still, it’s possible that no matter how well you follow the script, now and then you’ll experience some difficulty.

A. Client doesn’t want to talk/work  (Based on “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers,” by Muriel Harris)

1. Empathize and validate the client’s reluctance; after you have shown yourself to be in sympathy, congratulate clients for coming to the Center, and encourage them to build on this step.  Assigning a task is a good way to build, and another opportunity to offer encouragement.

2. Acknowledge a lack of interest in writing and try for a small success: completion of a relevant task will give you an opportunity to offer encouragement and can be used as a springboard for the next small success.

3. Help a client give voice to fear: fears expressed in language can seem less infinitely terrifying, and putting their feelings into words may help clients to begin to see how they can overcome them, or at least work around them.  Empathy and encouragement are again helpful here, as is the assigning of some task that clients can complete in spite of their anxiety.

4. For clients who have a hard time staying on topic (for example, those who mistake your empathy and encouragement as signs that you are merely a sympathetic ear, and who then would prefer to use the session to confide all of their problems, instead of getting down to work), actively refocus them on the work: here the text is extremely important, because it gives you an opening to say, “Yes, that sounds very upsetting, but let’s focus on something we can accomplish today, like analyzing the argument in this paper.”  Assigning a task is also a good way to refocus on the text.

5. When clients seem truly stuck for a way to begin, you can offer them questions—that they can ask themselves—that allow them to wonder: e.g., as to whether the paper meets the assignment, whether the difficulty is related to problems with organization or “flow,” whether the claims and evidence are sufficient, etc.  Suggest a question by saying, “Are you wondering if . . .?”  Help them follow up on their responses with some task.

B. Client is unhappy with Center policy

1. Bear in mind that the client’s unhappiness (and anger) is not really directed at you, although you are the recipient of it.  Don’t get defensive, and concentrate on keeping your tone and demeanor calm, so as not to trigger an escalation of the client’s emotional state.

2. Briefly explain the rationale behind the policy.  For example, you can tell the client that the reason we won’t work with a text the same day it’s due is that doesn’t allow time for the kind of reflection that is essential for good revision.  But don’t waste time defending the policy, or getting into an argument with a client who wants to challenge a policy; at that point it’s time to refer the client to the Director.

3. Refer the client to the Director: if the Director is in the office, you may offer to walk the client back immediately; it is better to do this as soon as you begin to suspect that a client is becoming angry (rather than waiting for a client’s anger to become full-blown).  If the Director is not in the office (if it’s in the evening, for example), tell the client that you can’t say more about the matter than you’ve already said, but that the Director will be happy to speak to them about the policy at length; then provide them with the Director’s email and/or phone number (desk staff will have this information if you need it).

4. If the referral ends the session, make a note of this in the session recap.  If the referral seems to calm the client, and if it seems possible to get back to work again, then attempt to refocus the session on the text, and act as though nothing has happened.

C. Client becomes overly familiar / makes you feel uncomfortable

1. Flatly refuse to answer any personal questions, and, if you can, look the client directly in the eye to say that asking such questions is inappropriate, and that you cannot continue a session if the client asks again.  Do not laugh: it’s not funny, although it may feel tempting to laugh as a way of easing the tension.  And don’t just try to ignore: a client with boundary issues may take laughter or a failure to react as signals to press harder.  And—this is important—you must not give the client another chance after the first.  End the session immediately.

2. If a client touches you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable, immediately end the session.  Do not allow yourself to be persuaded that it was “an accident.”

3. To end the session, stand up and declare, in a quiet, firm voice, that the session is over, and that the client must leave the Center immediately.  Once you take this step, you must refuse to be persuaded to begin the session again.  If the client becomes emotional, signal to someone nearby (desk staff or another consultant) that you need help, and send that person either for the closest Center staff member, or to call Campus Security and the Library front desk (both, if no Center staff are present—you don’t know who will arrive first, and you want someone to come quickly).  But don’t allow yourself to be left alone in the Center with the client.

3a. Chances are good that if Campus Security is called, the client will not wait around to talk to whoever comes.  But do not cancel the call if the client leaves.  Wait until Security comes, and report the incident.

4. If you have to end a session, describe what happened in the session recap, but do not send a copy to the client’s instructor.  Forward the form to the Director.

5. If you are working in the Center and you see another consultant having difficulty with a client, do not hesitate to put your session on hold to go over to ask if everything is all right.  If the client in that session becomes angry or confrontational, call for help, but do not leave the consultant alone, or allow yourself to be left alone with the client.

Strategies for English Language Learners

Many of you will need to work with students for whom English is not their first language. This site gives you many suggestions for ways to support our international and bilingual community.

Another site offering advice on how to consult with multilingual writers:

Tips for Revision, Proofreading, & Editing

An overview of revision strategies can be found at the Harvard College Online Writing Center. Go to

A comprehensive online overview of higher-level proofreading and editing strategies can be found at the Harvard College Writing Center website. Click on “Editing the Essay, Part 1” OR “Editing the Essay, Part 2”

The Center for Reading and Writing at SUNY Adirondack offers an online Proofreading Handbook that provides proofreading tips and editing exercises to assist writers with low-level sentence problems, such as fragments, run-ons, shifts in tense, shifts in point-of-view, plurals and possessives, subject/verb agreement, pronoun usage, punctuation, capitalization, and homonyms.

Further Reading

Consultants are not required to read the following works.  We understand that for most consultants coursework represents a significant burden, and we don’t wish to add to that.  However, we want to encourage those of you who want to learn more, and the following titles offer you some options as to where to begin.  Please feel free to open a discussion about ideas you find in any of these works with any of the staff.

General Writing Instruction

Elbow, Peter. Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
—-. Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
—-. Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process.  2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

—-. Writing without Teachers. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Mindful Reading and Writing

Carillo, Ellen C.  A Writer’s Guide to Mindful Reading.  Boulder:  University Press of Colorado, 2017.
A Writers Guide To Mindful Reading

Prose Style

Johnson, T.R. A Rhetoric of Pleasure: Prose Style & Today’s Composition Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2003.

Lanham, Richard. Analyzing Prose. 2nd ed. New York: Continuum, 2003.

—-. Revising Prose. 5th ed. New York: Pearson, 2007.

Williams, Joseph M., and Gregory S. Colomb. Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace. 4th ed. Boston: Longman, 2012.

College Writing

Booth, Wayne, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Cullick, Jonathan, and Terry Myers Zawacki. Writing in the Disciplines: Advice and Models. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.

Hjortshoj, Keith. The Transition to College Writing. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001.

Toulmin, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. Updated ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Sentence-Level Concerns

Fish, Stanley. How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Langacker, Ronald. Cognitive Grammar: A Basic Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Noguchi, Rei. Grammar and the Teaching of Writing: Limits and Possibilities. Urbana, IL: NCTE Press, 1991.
Shaughnessy, Mina. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Elements of Thought