My Work as a Writing Consultant

Although I’m new to the business of consulting students and scholars, I’ve already learned a lot on the job as well as by reading about it. Now I would like to talk about the work a writing consultant does and what clients may expect. No doubt, there are different approaches of how to do the job. One I would like to discuss seems to be widespread and well documented (for those who read German, I can recommend the recently published Zukunftsmodell Schreibberatung by E. Grieshammer et al.).

The basic principle I try to apply in my work is that of helping academic writers to help themselves. As I learned, I should not just try to tell a client what she should do about a writing problem. Rather, I should let her find a solution herself by supporting her learning process. This is easier said than done. I see at least two challenges in this: first, my eagerness to help solve problems may become a problem itself, because the client won’t learn how to tackle a challenge in the future, but will instead get a quick fix from me. Second, the client who expects me to just help him with the present challenge so that he can continue to work without having to learn something new. Both undermine the main principle. I won’t say that quick fixes don’t have their rightful place, but they should be the exception.

The principle of help for self-help connects to other aspects of writing consultancy. Although I don’t reject clients who like to talk about their text – the final product – I’m more concerned with the writing process. How do they plan their writing, how do they manage their time, how do they structure the process of creating a text, and how do they cope with setbacks and other challenges? While I too often intervene in a text because I happen to see something they could or should change, this isn’t my job as a consultant. Rather, together with the clients, my job is to find adequate tools and strategies to support their writing process. If they want me to look at the text in regard to style, for example, we will do so together with the help of examples. But here too, it should be the client who decides about the stylistic changes. I’m only a facilitator who helps the client to discover his or her own resources. With this approach, the clients are more likely to find a solution the next time the challenge arises, without needing my help. In the end, they are responsible for their writing and have to be able to defend their decisions. If the decisions and changes come from the writing consultant, the writer might get into trouble.

Whenever I suggest a strategy or change, I try to make clear that it is my suggestion. While this might be tedious to hear time and again, it remains important for me as a consultant. I can suggest many things that would work for me. It’s easy to do so, because I won’t be writing or revising the text myself. Suggestions, then, have the function to initiate or provoke thoughts and decisions. They’re not necessarily the right ones. That is why I tell my clients that they have to decide themselves. But whatever they do, it’s central that they know what they’re doing and why.

The consulting context, thus, depends equally on the consultant’s as well as the client’s orientation and expectations. Until now, I have not yet experienced any clash of expectations that would have prevented my work with clients. But I have to be as transparent as possible when it comes to disclosing my work principles and expectations.

Next week, I will talk about how clients can profit from knowing how they write.

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