- May I send students to the Writing Center to have their papers edited and proofread?
- One of my students worked on a draft with a peer writing consultant, but her final draft still had lots of errors. How could this have happened?
- How can a peer writing consultant who is a political science major help my students on their biology lab reports?
- I would prefer my students to work with the professional staff members in the Writing Center rather than the peer writing consultants. Is this possible?
- A couple of my students told me there were no appointments available when they called the Writing Center. Could this be true?
- What training do the peer writing consultants receive?
- Is it okay to encourage all the students in my class to visit the Writing Center?
- Is it useful to require all the students in my class to visit the Writing Center?
- What should I do if one of my students has significant trouble with the "mechanics" of writing: spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.?
- How does the Writing Center work with students on take-home exams?
- My honors thesis student needs a lot of help in managing his long-term writing project. Can the Writing Center help him?
No. The Writing Center's mission is to help students (and others) become better writers, not to do students' writing and editing for them. Sometimes consultants help students edit a portion of a draft in order to model ways that writers may make prose more concise or elegant, and consultants also teach students proofreading techniques. Typically, consultants ask writers to describe their primary concerns about a draft, and consultants begin a session by (and often spend a whole session) responding to those concerns. Most composition scholars agree that effective writing teachers and tutors engage initially with "higher-order" concerns that appear in drafts (e.g., argument, focus, organization) and encourage revision of such global concerns before addressing "lower-order" concerns like punctuation and spelling. Indeed, attending solely to errors while failing to engage students in conversation about the ideas they are trying to express would be counterproductive.
In other words, if we want students to learn to write and revise effectively, to say something meaningful about what they are learning, we need to engage with their ideas and encourage them to express them clearly and completely for a reader. If we wanted to discourage students from thinking deeply about their course materials and articulating that thinking, we would focus first and foremost on punctuation. Effective writers often produce what Ann Lamott calls "[messy] first drafts," and then they revise them. We encourage most beginning writers (and most college students can be considered beginning writers in any academic discipline) to hash out their ideas, consider the ways they may best communicate those ideas to a reader, and then do their best to make their prose as flawless as possible. But we don't do the work for them. And if a draft does not make sense, we try first to help the writers make it make sense. Later, assuming there is time, we try to help them understand patterns of error that appear in a draft—or, if this is not an issue, to polish a well-written draft.
In keeping with best practices in consulting, peer writing consultants are trained to engage with higher-order concerns in drafts—e.g., audience, argument, organization, development—before addressing lower-order concerns like spelling, punctuation and style. Consultants are also trained to practice a student-centered pedagogy: therefore, they focus first on the issues identified by the writer as priorities. Frequently, higher- and lower-order concerns are discussed simultaneously. For instance, clarifying a wordy sentence often improves an idea.
In a one-hour session, it is possible that the student writer and consultant ran out of time to address surface errors in the draft. Also, please understand that consultants do not "correct" drafts for students. In addition, consultants do not see the final draft that students turn in to their instructors.
Our consultants represent a range of majors, and though they understand that writing—and what counts as "good writing"—varies from discipline to discipline, they are not experts and do not present themselves as such. In most cases, a student writer benefits from the experience of reading her draft aloud to a consultant, asking for and receiving feedback, and making revisions that seem appropriate to her, and consultants need not be experts in a particular subject to facilitate this process.
Of course, discipline-specific questions do arise in sessions, and in these cases, consultants typically encourage writers to seek more information from their instructors.
Our peer writing consultants have completed a semester-long course on working with writers, and they are skilled at what they do. In some cases, however, a student writer may need to work with a staff member with greater experience. If you believe an individual student needs such assistance, please call or email us
If your students called to make an appointment the evening (or a few hours) before a paper was due, it certainly could be true. While we have weekday hours in Carnegie and evening hours in Carnegie 110 and Bertrand 325, we are often fully scheduled. Students should call at least a few days in advance to guarantee an appointment at their convenience.
The peer writing consultants have completed UNIV 239, "Working with Writers: Theory and Practice," a semester-long W2 course team taught each spring semester by Writing Center staff. In the course, students study a range of topics relevant to consulting in writing, including writing process theories, the conventions of academic disciplines, inclusive pedagogies, and teaching writing to non-native English speakers. Students have many opportunities to revise their own writing and practice consulting. Students who become consultants continue their training through weekly staff meetings in which they reflect upon their consulting experiences, share strategies, and learn more about working with writers.
The vast majority of students who completed our assessment survey reported they found their Writing Center experience to be helpful. Some students, albeit a minority, do not respond well to professional or peer writing consultants when their instructors require an entire class to visit the Center. These students often wait until the last possible moment to make an appointment, and they sometimes show up with hastily constructed drafts and with attitudes resistant to revision. All too frequently, such students want nothing more than a report to be sent to their teacher: they regard the consulting session as "busywork."
Therefore, we ask that you let the Writing Center staff know in advance if you intend to require a class to visit the Center. In some cases, we can visit your class and help prepare your students to make the most of their experience with a consultant. || Learn more about connecting your students with the Writing Center.
If you have a student who consistently demonstrates such problems in final drafts, please encourage the student to make regular (e.g., weekly) appointments with a writing consultant. A referral procedure is in place to address the needs of students who need ongoing assistance with writing. || Learn more about writing referrals.
During final exam week, we regularly see students who are working on take-home exams as well as other final projects. Peer consultants are trained to offer feedback on writing, not to provide answers or do the thinking for students. Nevertheless, since some students may wonder if they are permitted to seek feedback from writing consultants on take-home exams, please communicate your expectations clearly to your students. Our peer consultants are advised to ask student writers working on take-home exams whether it is appropriate for them to seek feedback in the Writing Center, but when student writers are unsure, we do not turn them away. Please make your policies clear to your students so they may make appropriate decisions.
Certainly. Many honors and master's students meet with consultants on a weekly basis to discuss work in progress. Writers often find that such a schedule enables them to manage their time more effectively and to balance the work of generating and revising text. We encourage honors and graduate students to work with us as well as with their faculty advisors.