Frequently Asked Questions
General Questions about the Writing Center
How can the Writing Center help me?
By engaging in conversation with you about your project, listening to you read your draft aloud or helping you brainstorm ideas, a writing consultant can help you put your thoughts into words and get a sense of whether your words convey the meaning you intend.
Who can use the Writing Center?
Writers from across the University community, including students, faculty and staff seek feedback from Writing Center consultants.
Is there a fee for using the Writing Center?
No. All Writing Center services are free for members of the Bucknell community.
English is not my first language. Can the Writing Center help me?
Yes. By engaging you in conversation about a class, an assignment, or a draft, Writing Center consultants offer people who are learning English a comfortable, non-judgmental environment in which to practice and refine speaking and writing skills. Consultants are familiar with common areas in which English poses problems for non-native speakers and can help you learn to recognize and address these aspects of your own writing.
FAQ for Students
By engaging in conversation with you about your project, listening to you read your draft aloud, or helping you brainstorm ideas, a peer writing consultant can help you put your thoughts into words and get a sense of whether your words convey the meaning you intend. A consultant can help you answer the question that most writers have at some point: "Does this make sense?" Through reflective listening and by asking questions about what he or she doesn't understand, the consultant can help you to clarify your own thinking and writing at all levels, from organization and content to grammar and sentence structure.
No. Although appointments are encouraged, writers may drop in during our hours to see if a consultant is available to work with them. Please note that if you are more than 10 minutes late for a scheduled appointment and another writer is waiting, your appointment will be given to that writer.
You should schedule an appointment as soon as you feel that feedback from another person would be helpful and not so late that you don't have time to revise your paper after your appointment. Often a student will bring a "final" draft to the Writing Center on the day the paper is due and discover ways that the paper might be significantly improved.
A consultant will not tell you what to write. If you are having trouble thinking of what to say in a paper, the consultant will probably ask you some questions about the class and the assignment, to help you start putting what you know into words. This process may lead to your creating an outline or writing a tentative thesis statement during the tutoring session. It may also help you to formulate a plan for finding out what more you need to know before starting to write. For instance, you may need to look more closely at an assigned text, or ask the professor for more information about the writing assignment.
In a consulting session, the writer, not the consultant, makes all changes to a draft. Instead, the consultant will ask you what concerns you have about your paper and then the two of you will read through the draft together. Together, you can focus on your concerns such as organization, content, clarity, grammar or whatever aspects of the paper you feel need attention. Usually the writer reads the draft aloud and the consultant follows along, with either person stopping for clarification when necessary. When grammatical issues need to be addressed, the consultant may show you how to recognize a particular kind of error, such as a run-on sentence or a problem with verb tense, and then help you learn to correct such errors yourself.
Yes. While it's unlikely that a writer with a political science paper, for instance, will end up working with a consultant who is a political science major, all consultants are trained to work with writers from all disciplines. Please do not expect consultants to be experts in a given field or to know exactly what your instructor is expecting.
No. (See answers above.)
Writing Center services are confidential. At the end of each session, the consultant and client together complete a brief "session summary" summarizing the appointment. One copy is kept for the Writing Center's confidential records, one copy goes to the client and a copy can be sent to the professor, if the student wishes.
Most faculty members and students believe that talking about ideas in the context of a consulting session promotes learning and may help reinforce critical thinking skills and better writing strategies. However, some faculty members want their students to work alone. Faculty members should communicate their expectations clearly. If they do not, students should ask them to explain appropriate study and writing practices in the course.
Some faculty members do not want students to seek feedback from a peer consultant who is taking the same course. Should you drop in to the Writing Center and discover that the consultant on duty is a coursemate of yours, the consultant may advise you to work with another consultant instead.
In addition, students should ask their instructors if it is appropriate to seek feedback on a take-home essay exam. Since the Writing Center is not equipped to know the expectations of all faculty members, individual students and teachers must communicate clearly with each other about appropriate practices. If you have questions, please ask your instructor.
Faculty members' requirements vary regarding take-home exams. Some faculty members allow students to work with Writing Center consultants on exams written outside of class but some do not. Always read the test or assignment instructions carefully and if you are not sure what resources your professor expects or allows you to use in completing a final exam, please ask your professor before seeking any assistance.
In Bucknell's Writing Program, writing instruction is offered "across the curriculum," which means that students may fulfill their writing requirement by taking writing-intensive ("W") courses in their majors as well as in other subjects. Students generally take one W1 course during their first year at Bucknell, and two W2 courses during the next three years.
The Writing Center was established to support the Writing Program by offering one-on-one and workshop support both for writers and for faculty members in the teaching of writing.
FAQ for Faculty
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. 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. 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 (such as audience, argument, organization and 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 will run 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 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 their draft aloud to a consultant, asking for and receiving feedback, and making revisions that seem appropriate to them. Consultants do not need to 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 122, 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 complete our assessment survey report that 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.
If you have a student who consistently demonstrates such problems in final drafts, please encourage the student to make regular (for example, weekly) appointments with a writing consultant. A referral procedure is in place to address the needs of students who need ongoing assistance with writing.
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.
Yes. 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 advisers.
FAQ for Staff
Writers from across the University community, including students, faculty and staff, seek feedback from Writing Center consultants.
By engaging in conversation with you about your project, listening to you read your draft aloud or helping you brainstorm ideas, a writing consultant can help you put your thoughts into words and get a sense of whether your words convey to another person the meaning you intend. A consultant can help you answer the question that most writers have at some point: "Does this make sense?" Through reflective listening and by asking questions about what he or she doesn't understand, the consultant can help you to clarify your own thinking and writing at all levels, from organization and content to grammar and sentence structure.
No. However, if you wish to meet with a staff member, we strongly encourage calling ahead for an appointment to make sure someone will be available when you arrive.
No. We customarily work with the writer present, and the writer makes all changes to a draft. Usually the writer reads the draft aloud and the consultant follows along, with either person stopping for clarification when necessary. When grammatical issues need to be addressed, the consultant may show you how to recognize and correct a particular kind of error then help you learn to proofread for such errors yourself.
No. All Writing Center services are free for members of the Bucknell community.
The Writing Center keeps track of sessions, but we keep client identities private.
The Writing Center