The balance of rhetoric and linguistics: A study of second language writing center tutorials

Virginia Gabrielle (Gigi) Taylor, Purdue University


Second language (L2) writers have historically challenged the writing center tutorial model, which privileges higher order concerns over lower order concerns. This model separates the provision of rhetorical and linguistic feedback into different stages of the writing process, with the rhetorical concerns of content and organization addressed in the early stages and the linguistic concerns of grammar and punctuation addressed in the later stages. Although this separation has been appropriate for native English speakers, it has proven to be problematic for L2 writers, who often require linguistic feedback throughout all stages of the writing process. Their requests for this feedback and their need for greater linguistic intervention has led to the perception that linguistic feedback is the primary concern of L2 writers, even at the expense of rhetorical feedback. This study examines the type of feedback requested by eight undergraduate L2 writers in writing center tutorials. It also examines the balance of rhetorical and linguistic feedback in the tutorial session, the extent of overlap between the two categories, how the agenda is negotiated with regard to these categories, and the perceptions of both tutors and L2 writers. Data include pre- and post-tutorial surveys, tutor focus group, and tape-recorded tutorials. Findings that emerge from this study include: (1) L2 writers express initial interest in linguistic feedback but seek and receive slightly more rhetorical feedback; (2) substantial overlap exists between categories, primarily related to discussions of content; (3) L2 writers and tutors use opposite strategies for initiating topics in the same feedback category; and (4) L2 writers' and tutors' perceptions of what type of feedback has been provided are most likely to conflict when there has been substantial overlap between categories. These findings indicate the need for a reassessment of the tutorial model for L2 writers and tutor training that includes the study of second language acquisition and the development of second language writing ability.



Subject Area

Bilingual education|Linguistics|Rhetoric

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