Making quality contact in the writing center: a collective case study of the relation between writing consultants' discourse community knowledge and genre knowledge

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University of Alabama Libraries

Since the first writing centers were established on college and university campuses, their directors have struggled to convince others of the writing center's role as more than a "fix-it shop" for editing mistakes. Given that campus-wide writing centers are available for stakeholders from various disciplinary discourse communities to use, the consultants who work in these centers can expect to encounter different discipline-specific genres. Yet, many writing centers are staffed only with generalist consultants who have expertise in a specific disciplinary discourse community and who lack familiarity with other discipline-specific genres. Accordingly, these centers might not make a convincing argument that they can provide quality feedback on any writing task they encounter. This study documented two generalist writing center consultants' experiences working with business students on their discipline-specific writing tasks. It utilized a qualitative case study design to gain insight into the consultants' feedback both before and after they explored business discourse by either observing a business classroom or reading sample business documents for approximately one month. Data were collected through in-depth interviews with the consultants that elicited information about their academic and business genre knowledge, their experiences with academic and business discourse communities, their goals and objectives as writing center consultants, and their feelings of self-efficacy when working with unfamiliar genres and disciplinary discourse communities. Additional data came from consultant reflections in their consultation session write-ups and field notes one consultant made during classroom observations. Data were also collected through interviews with the business students' Professor. These interviews provided information about the quality of feedback in the consultation sessions from the perspective of a member of the business discourse community. Overall, the consultants' discourse community knowledge from either observing the business classroom or reading sample business documents did not enhance their business genre knowledge, as they did not make more connections in their final sessions between the form and content of the business students' writing tasks. Ultimately, this study provides an opportunity to discuss how re-envisioning the writing center as a "discourse zone" is appropriate for socio-epistemic writing center pedagogy.

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Language, Rhetoric and Composition