An assignment in English 376, focusing on a team of reluctant revisers, demonstrates how text-specific questions let writers know the teacher is interested in their writing. These writers called for a set of limitations on the amount of violence and pornography in films. A sentence reads: "We believe that the viewers should not be exposed to excessive violence and pornography, especially people under eighteen years old." (The Reluctant Revisors) My response in commentary was:
"Why shouldn't viewers be exposed to excessive violence and pornography? Why shouldn't young people especially be exposed? Can you tell me how you arrived at these conclusions?"
As a reader I'm simply interested in how the students arrived at these conclusions; as a writing tutor I want the students to defend and support their statements with evidence. I could have easily communicated the latter desire using the directive approach and written "support" or "defend" after each statement. However, I didn't want to assume the role of the authoritarian and rob the students of their paper. I wanted to communicate my interest in the content of their paper, not just what I thought needed be fixed. Although the generic, "Could you defend this point?" accomplishes the same purpose, phrasing the question to include phrases from the text is better. Echoing the writer in this way, even putting phrases into different words, gives the writer confidence that a reader can understand the paper. Questioning encourages the writer that a reader is curious to hear more.
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