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Key Principles and Practices

Here we share our key principles and practices in order to help members of the Caltech community understand both the work our center does and the thinking behind our work. Our principles and practices have developed through a combination of reading relevant research, working with Caltech writers, self-reflection, and collaboration. We expect that our principles and practices will continue to develop as we continue to learn, work with writers, reflect, and collaborate in the years ahead.

  • We believe that a fundamental way writers learn to write and produce better writing is to seek feedback on their works-in-progress and revise in response to that feedback. We both provide feedback to writers and help writers respond to feedback they have received from other readers.
  • We support the goals writers develop for their own writing. When writers' goals do not align with those of professors/mentors or with expectations of other readers, we seek to help writers understand this divergence so they can make informed choices about their writing. We are not proxies for professors or other readers, but rather individual respondents to writing who wish to help writers develop and pursue their own goals.
  • We encourage writers to set the agendas for our meetings, and we are happy to help support them with any aspect of academic writing that they wish to prioritize. When we have reason to question whether a writer's priorities will help them accomplish their goals, we share our questions with the writer but will ultimately defer to the writer's priorities for discussion.
  • We aim to actively involve writers in learning about writing during every meeting. We use both directive approaches, such as providing models that writers can emulate or sharing resources that explain a concept we think a writer may find useful, as well as non-directive approaches, such as posing questions and brainstorming.
  • We seek to scaffold the writing experience by breaking down a large writing task into smaller tasks and providing writers with feedback and resources that help them complete those tasks.
  • We are respondents to student writing, not editors or co-authors. While we may identify and explain writing errors and model useful approaches to writing, we do not take over student documents to edit or change them. Writers are responsible for using the learning done in our sessions to make changes to their own work.
  • We recognize that writing can be an emotionally challenging activity. We hope to motivate writers and help them to find ways to make their work as writers meaningful. We also provide a supportive space in which writers can share their experiences with the challenges of writing.
  • We prioritize access and seek to make our resources and support available to all writers, including those with disabilities. We understand that disabilities may influence the reading and writing processes for some writers, as well as the experience of sharing and discussing written work. We are working proactively to consider issues of access in our center, and we welcome feedback so we can address any limits to access of our support.
  • We affirm writers' rights to their own languages [1]. We also recognize that standard language ideology [2] shapes many U.S. academic readers' assessments of writing, creating a bias toward the version of English spoken by a subset of Americans who hold power. We recognize that writers from minoritized groups may face additional and unfair challenges in trying to meet the language-based expectations of some academic readers. We work with writers to empower them by answering their questions about grammar, syntax, style, and clarity, while at the same being careful not to suggest that standardized Englishes are inherently better at communicating meaning than other dialects of English.
  • We understand that writing is used to perpetuate many systems of oppression, and we endeavor to support social justice and challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of unjust oppression in our work with writers. We aim to treat writers fairly and with respect for their identities, and we likewise expect to be treated fairly and respectfully by writers.
  • In conversations with writers, we are aware of and explicitly mark the limits of our knowledge. We are direct and open with writers about the kinds of knowledge we do and do not bring into our reading of their work. When writers need types of help or answers to questions we cannot provide, we work to connect them to resources who can provide the support they need.

[1] Committee on CCCC Language Statement. (1974). Students' Right to Their Own Language. College Composition and Communication, 25.
[2] Lippi-Green, R. (1997). English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States. London: Routledge.