This past week, I met with a student with a 12 page Social Work paper. Thank goodness he made his appointment for an hour, and also showed up early!
It took eons just to read through the thing, and I found a pattern that I didn't really know how to address for an entire paper...he tended to stretch sentences into many, many words when they could consist of much fewer. I ended up stopping at about page 3, really seeing a pattern, and stopping to ask him if he can see more concise ways of wording different sentences I would kind of fumble upon. His writing itself was very eloquent and precise, and I told him this, but that sometimes in trying to be too precise it gets redundant and excessive, which ultimately sort of loses the reader. He said that his professor had the same comment. I offered that when he writes, to not think of papers themselves in terms of size. That I know the scale of his paper was huge, but that it's much more important to make sure that each of his ideas are explained clearly, but not too much. Then I asked if after he "finished" the paper, if he felt like he had more ideas on the subject. He said he had a ton! So I told him that instead of writing in a way that takes up as many words as possible (i think he felt that this was the "right" way to write a long research paper), I told him to save some of that room for his own deeper ideas on the topic (as long as it's in line with the paper's requirements). I explained that the point of a long essay is not to stretch a few thoughts as far as possible, but to show a true expansion on those thoughts.
He seemed overwhelmed honestly, and I was too...
I just didn't know how else to explain it, so we grabbed some of his sentences, and I would say something like...I want this sentence to mean the same thing as you have here, but I want it to be much shorter. How would you make this same sentence shorter? Usually (thank goodness), he would immediately chuck whatever parts of it were redundant. I was so glad he saw this right away. The leftover sentences however, were far from short. We were talking four-line sentences getting cut to two line sentences. Still complex and eloquent, but not restating themselves. We then read the rest of the essay (9 more pages!) and he was able to really see where to cut back. All he wanted me to do was to make little markings where things could be condensed. He seemed truly grateful, and less frustrated, which was good because I had been extremely nervous on how to better the "problem" of overstating sentences, when the pattern was shown throughout the whole paper.
I told him to just always keep in mind exactly what he's writing about, and how whatever he's saying now relates. If it doesn't really relate, or if it does relate, but you've already elaborated on it heavily, he may want to rethink talking about it again as though the reader hadn't heard about it before.
Then, in the last ten or so minutes, we did an APA works' cited layout. Great practice for me, being much less familiar with APA than MLA! And good breathing room because seriously...that 12 page paper wiped me out. It also had the word "recidivism" in it probably 50 times, which is a very hard word to say 50 times :)
I also had an ESL Nursing student, who came in specifically for "grammar." I honestly loved her writing style. She wrote a very compassionate paper about ethical dilemmas in the nursing field, but had a really hard time with possessives and articles. Totally understandable because English is gnarly in those ways. I really felt like the HOCs of her paper were solid. She so KNEW what she was talking about, and the paper was gripping and concise.
I felt very comfortable spending a good amount of our session, not correcting her "mistakes," but instead having a very in-depth conversation about possessives and articles. Instances when they are used and instances when they aren't. Instead of marking up her paper, I scribbled some notes on the bottom of it and let her go through every few lines to see where maybe a possessive or article needed to be inserted. She skipped a few, but we basically just carried out this activity until the 30 minutes were over. I emphasized how weird English really is, and she laughed, agreeing. Not to make these sessions sound like some Nick at Nite special or something...they were extremely challenging for me. But I think the positives came through quite a bit, and both students were exceedingly grateful for our session.
Now that I think back on the nursing student's session though, I think it may have been beneficial to have asked her how in her first language, she would imply something belonging to someone. That could have opened up a good conversation, but I will remember that next time.
I think this dog is fake.