Advice to readers and listeners
- Read a piece between two and three double-spaced pages (unless otherwise instructed).
- Don't apologize for the piece. You'll want to say, "I didn't have much time to write this week, so…" Don't say it. You will color your listeners' responses. Say only what is necessary to help your group understand the piece: "This is the first half of the essay," or "This is a revision of a research piece that you heard two weeks ago."
- Read slowly so that your listeners can take it in, and loudly, so that they can hear it clearly. Wait thirty seconds or so between first and second readings so they can write down a few impressions.
- When readers respond, just listen. You'll be tempted to defend something you've written or to explain or justify it. Resist the temptation. It's your responsibility to listen. Write down the responses for use later when you revise. Even when questioned directly about a word, citation, whatever-say nothing. Any response on your part can-and probably will-effect the responses of your listeners, making them less valuable.
- Later, use the responses to make decisions about what you want to do. Two listeners may have liked something; a third may have hated it. You may be able to revise in such a way that you keep what the two listeners liked and changed what didn't work for the third. Or you may want to ignore the two listeners and go with the response of the third because that response resonated with your own sense of what was not working. You are the author; it's your choice. It's not important whether you agree or disagree, but that you make decisions informed by what other readers thought.
- Take no notes the first time the piece is read. Concentrate on listening. Try to make yourself aware of what is going on in your head as you hear the writer's prose. What do those words do to you? How do they strike you? When are you with the writer? At what point does your mind wander? What do you remember about the finished piece?
- Between the first and second reading, jot down first impressions. What do you think and feel about what you heard? What words and phrases registered with you? What do you want to listen to during the second reading?
- During the second reading, write continuously, noting down the impressions, thoughts, and analyses that are triggered in your mind. Try to comment on general elements such as organization, tone, voice, persuasiveness, and accuracy. Then move to particular words, phrases, images. Tell the writer your response to his or her words. Stick to your experience. What went on in your head as you heard the words read? What did you perceive?
- Don't tell the writer what to do. Don't say, "Take out the first sentence." Say instead, "Your first sentence did not lead me into your paper" or "that sentence bothered me because…." Offer suggestions and support them with specific reasons as to why they work better. Offer your views, even if you don't always know why you are reacting that way (but keep trying to figure out the reason). You might say, "Your words made me angry. I didn't like it when you said…." You might say, "I'm uncomfortable about the voice in this essay. It struck me as being condescending in that section on…" You might say, "I was really moved by that description of…" Whatever you say, always be honest and specific as to what you think and where, in the writing, that response occurred.
- Respond to the positive as well as the negative-tell writers what works. They need to know when their words aren't effective, but it's just as important that they know what they're doing right
Prepared by Susan Wyche with permission of Charles Schuster.