The Rhetorical Power of Heuristic Quotations: Incorporating the Wen Fu into the Writing Center

Jeffry C. Davis


Using “heuristic quotations” (or “HQs”—as we call them) involves discovering substantive statements that capture the thoughts or sentiments of published writers from diverse backgrounds, with varied interests, each addressing an important facet of writing. Heuristic quotations are regularly featured in our writing center in bright colors on a marker board. An almost effortless instructional method, the posting of heuristic quotations reinforces our directive approach to peer consulting in subtle but useful ways, providing a visual prompt that can orient writers and consultants toward perspectives and goals that conduce collaboration. Practically speaking, heuristic quotations operate as a kind of rhetoric, illustrating one beneficial way in which, as Melissa Ianetta argues, “the rhetorical tradition and contemporary writing center studies can illuminate one another” (39). The “prose poems” of the third century soldier and poet Lu Chi offer remarkably practical advice for those who conscientiously strive to put their thoughts and feelings into words; the poems of the Wen Fu can best be understood according to its English title—“the art of writing.” Incorporating select heuristic quotations from the Wen Fu addresses two concerns recently examined by columnists in this journal: Jessica Chainer Nowacki’s encouragement to consider innovative ways to address ongoing ESL training, especially in relation to Chinese students; and Kathleen Vacek’s call to include the reading and discussion of poetry into staff development, particularly as a means of enriching understanding about multiliteracies. The result is potentially enriching for both consultants and clients.


Writing-Center Consulting; Writing-Center Training


Works Cited

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Brooks, Paul. The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work with Selections from Her Writings, Published and Unpublished. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972. Print.

Chi, Lu. Wen Fu: The Art of Writing. Trans. Sam Hamill. Minneapolis: Milkweed, 2000. Print.

Eisenhart, Christopher, and Barbara Johnstone. Rhetoric in Detail: Discourse Analyses of Rhetorical Talk and Text. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2008. Print.

Gigerenzer, Gerd, and Wolfgang Gaissmaier. “Heuristic Decision Making.” Annual Review of Psychology. 62 (2011): 451-82. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. < http://citrixweb.mpib- >.

Hurston, Zora Neal. Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Print.

Ianetta, Melissa. “If Aristotle Ran the Writing Center: Classical Rhetoric and Writing Center Administration.” The Writing Center Journal 24.2 (2004): 37-59. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. .

Klein, Michael. “The Heuristic Potential of Rhetoric Reclaimed: Toward Imagining a Techné of Dialogical Arrangement.” Journal of Advanced Composition 22.1 (2002): 211-23. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. < >.

Nowacki, Jessica Chainer. “An Ongoing ESL Training Program in the Writing Center.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal 9.2 (2012): 1-4. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. < >.

Thompson, Isabelle. “Scaffolding in the Writing Center: A Microanalysis of an Experienced Tutor’s Verbal and Nonverbal Tutoring Strategies.” Written Communication 26.4 (2009): 417-53. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. < >.

Vacek, Kathleen. “Developing Tutors’ Meta-Multiliteracies Through Poetry.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal 9.2 (2012): 1-3. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.

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