A few semesters ago I took a poetry writing class. For one poem, I was trying something different with my line lengths and rhythm. The teacher commented on the first draft that the rhythm was not working, and that I should try to break the lines up more.
Breaking the lines up more was exactly the opposite of what I was trying to do. So, I of course totally ignored that advice.
My sister was trying her hand at writing a novel and she gave me a draft to read. One of my biggest notes for her after reading it was how hard it had been for me to keep track of all the different characters.
“So you want me to cut some characters?” she asked, clearly heartbroken at the idea of getting rid of anyone.
She didn’t cut any characters.
Only the writer has control over the text, because only the writer knows the ultimate goal for that project. Only the writer knows the plan, or the point, or mission of that project. So a writer must always protect that mission, and choose which suggestions or ideas to take and work with. Only the writer can decide where to take his or her writing next.
So was my teacher wrong when she said I needed to make my lines shorter? Was I wrong when I said there were too many characters?
Your reader cannot be wrong. A reader’s job is to relay his or her experience interacting with the text. I can’t be wrong with my experience. I was confused by the number of characters. Period. That’s what happened when I read it and that is a fact the writer has to deal with.
What matters, what is up for discussion, is how the writer chooses to deal with advice. My sister added more detail and depth to the characters. Instead of cutting characters from the fold, she made them easier to remember.
Likewise, my teacher was right. The rhythm in my poem wasn’t working. But instead of cutting lines, which would have ruined the thing I was attempting, I made the lines longer. The poem suddenly opened up, and was even published in the student magazine the following year.
Academic writing faces the same dilemma. Our job at the writing center is to act as readers, but you can also have classmates, teachers, friends or family act as readers for your academic writing. And no matter what they tell you, they aren’t wrong. As a reader, I may be confused by some language. I may not follow the line of reasoning. I may not see the connection between the argument and the evidence.
As a writer, you should not automatically do what I suggest, but you should think about what I am saying, and what that means.
You must ask yourself, why is my reader confused? Why does my reader think that?
And if your reader, even a writing center tutor, gives you some advice, you don’t have to take it. However, it is in your best interest to think about where that suggestion is coming from. If a reader suggests a new way to organize a paper, you should ask, why does my reader think that makes more sense?
If you don’t agree with the suggestion, you still need to address the concern.
Instead of organizing it that way, what can I change so that the reader understands it better?
As a writer, the decisions are up to you, but you asked that reader for advice so you might as well take heed. There is something valuable you can get from each reader, even if it isn’t exactly what they said.