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This manual discusses the role of student writing mentors and the processes of consulting on student papers, giving feedback, and grading. The manual provides specific examples of working with students who are assigned to write critical summaries of research articles.


The Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication designed this manual for undergraduate students who plan to become communication mentors. The manual prepares mentors for the experience of consulting with student writers—reading, evaluating, and offering helpful feedback in conference with individual students. In some courses and/or assignments, writing mentors also grade papers, so the manual also includes tips and guidelines for assigning grades to student work.

The goal of the mentoring process, both for mentors and their student clients, is to develop a voice in the field. Because science and engineering fields are highly collaborative, fast-changing, and competitive, individual members of these disciplines must be able to communicate effectively with one another in teams; give feedback; and analyze, summarize, and respond to published studies. As new members of a community, student writers need to feel that they are involved in a conversation with engaged members of their field. Even a summary can manifest a dialog between the student writer and authors or presenters whose work is summarized. By relaying the ideas and findings of others, student writers construct a position for themselves alongside these others in the field. As readers, mentors relate to the published authors through the voice of the writer who summarizes. Mentors judge the value of a summary in terms of accuracy and a well-constructed explanation of the source, as expressed in the summarizer's own words.

Writing mentors are typically advanced students who are actively involved in analyzing published work and working on their own research or design projects. Through the mentoring process, they develop an ability to respond to student writing, hone their own writing skills, and act as guides and examples for younger students. In a large course whose rigorous content can sometimes intimidate, these younger students may end up feeling like faceless wheel-cogs in the information-churning academic machine. Mentoring brings human interaction back to the forefront of intellectual activity in science and engineering.

What is a mentor?

A mentor cares about the person who learns, and that means the mentor commends before criticizing, tries to understand the student's purposes, and directs comments toward helping the student succeed. Realizing that praise changes habits much more than nagging or condemning, a mentor may point out a place where a student made a decision correctly and then suggest that the student look for a couple of places where the decision went wrong and try to figure out why.

A mentor models the attitudes he or she wants others to imitate. It's all right to tell a student that you were disappointed in the work and that you hope he or she will do a better job next time. It's not all right to demean the student. However, you don't want to give a student the idea that a weak draft will earn a high grade; you can't take responsibility for the student's work, which must remain his or her own. So you want to be honest. Furthermore, when you grade the student's work, you must be free to award points without favoritism. Students should expect warm human beings with high standards in the scientific and engineering communities.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Becoming a professional scholar. OpenStax CNX. Aug 03, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10871/1.2
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