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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

More on Mentoring

I cannot reveal identifying details about my experience as a mentor but I can talk in general terms. Let's just say it is a female scholar of Jonathan Edwards working in a University in the Pacific Northwest, but that it is not such a scholar because I have changed the details.

It turned out that what I needed to do was read articles by this person in draft form and make concrete suggestions about improving style and correcting problems in rhetorical presentation, adjusting the quantity of pathos, logos, and ethos (insofar as those are quantifiable entities).

The result was immediate improvement. The articles I edited got much better in subsequent drafts and the person I am mentoring was grateful.

The person's work is different from my own in almost every respect (field, approach, language, rhetorical stance). I know nothing substantive about the subject matter. This made no difference. I might have missed some problem, of course, that a specialist would have seen, but having no stake in the field made it very easy for me to identify any lack of clarity, verbosity, or rhetorical missteps. I have to feel confident that the writer knows his shit, and that my job is to talk about what a non-specialist reader would respond. Someone picking up a journal will not be a specialist in every subfield represented by that journal. I felt that I allowed the writer to bring out her own voice, one very different from my own. I felt completely free of prejudice, never once having to impose my own perspective.

I can work fast, reading an article at one sitting. I know what I think almost immediately, identifying problems without having to overthink. Mentoring is not time-consuming. I could read an article a week with no problem, no effect on my other activities.


Thomas said...

I very much share your experience. As a writing consultant, I also have to assume that the writer knows what s/he's talking about. On that assumption, I can then point out the many ways that same writer doesn't seem to know what s/he's talking about. Writers may then decide for themselves how to solve the problem (more knowledge or better writing), but the result is usually a noticable improvement.

Still, I can't help but feel that the ideal is to be both "free of prejudice" and anchored in shared, specialist knowledge. One way to read this post is that your lack of specialist knowledge is a strength; I've felt that way too. But there's something about how it plays out in the long run that is less than satisfying (for the mentor).

Jonathan said...

I agree. It was rather surprising to me that I could be so effective in mentoring so far outside my own expertise. It felt very strange. I didn't have to negotiate or steer around my own investment the subject matter. On the other hand, I couldn't address the work at a certain level either: I had to take it on faith that the writer knew what she was talking about.