Who can use the Writing Center?

Any student, staff, or faculty member in the WFU community is welcome to use the Writing Center for any writing project. The only exception is that we cannot help with writing done in languages other than English; our staff does not have that expertise.

Who is on the staff?

All of our tutors are WFU students.  They include five graduate assistants from the English MA Program, and a combination of graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines.  Tutors take WRI 341, Writing Center Pedagogy, before being hired and must observe current tutors, team-tutor with current staff, and finally complete solo tutoring sessions. Typically we have 15-20 peer tutors on staff.

Dr. Ryan Shirey serves as Director of the Writing Center.

Grace Waldrip serves as Program Coordinator for the Writing Center and Writing Program.

What happens during a Writing Center conference?

Every session starts with lots of questions from the tutor about the assignment, due date, student’s intentions (what the writer thinks he or she is trying to say), and the student’s concerns.  Whether helping with brainstorming, forming a thesis, adding support, restructuring, or proofreading, we take the same non-directive and Socratic approach.  This “interview” stage helps us begin setting an agenda for the session so we know what to look for as we read through the paper.  Unless a student identifies a specific concern up front – say, transitions or punctuation – we work with the big picture first: Does the paper fulfill the assignment (assuming the student fully understands the assignment and explains it to the tutor)?  Does it have a thesis or main point that establishes a clear direction for the rest of the paper?  From there, we move on to development, organization, clarity, grammar, and documentation.  Quite honestly, most students just want to know “does it make sense?  Does it ‘flow’?”

Next the tutor or student will read the draft aloud; this helps the writer begin to hear when the words on the paper don’t fully match the intentions in his or her head.   Afterwards the tutor explains what he/she learned from the paper and identifies areas to address.  Before proceeding, the tutor and student discuss and agree on an agenda for the session, especially if the paper has many problems, in which case the student will probably need to return for more sessions later.  That’s why we encourage students to come in well before the due date.

Many of my students are terrible proofreaders. Can I suggest that they bring their papers to the Writing Center for proofreading?

Yes, as long as they understand that we won’t edit or proofread their papers for them (they won’t learn anything that way).  Instead we help them learn how to recognize and correct their errors.  The best way to provide instruction in grammar, usage, sentence structure, punctuation, etc., is in the context of reading and discussing the writing that students bring to us.  For particularly long papers, we do not provide a line by line editing for the entire paper – for some papers that could take several hours.  We work to help students identify the patterns of errors in their work so that they can start to identify and correct them on their own.

Can I require my whole class to bring their papers to the Writing Center?

Please don’t!  We appreciate your concern for having as many of your students as possible get assistance, but we find from experience that when an entire class is required to see us, most will wait until the last minute, when we can’t possibly see them all, and that many will come without any serious intention of revising their work, but just to verify they filled the requirement.  Under such circumstances, the sessions tend not to be very productive.

How can I encourage my students to use the Writing Center?

Here are some suggestions:

    • Include a description of the Writing Center on your syllabus (see our home page for the basic information you would need) or direct them to our website.
    • Invite one of our staff members to visit your class for a brief talk about our services. (To arrange one of these visits, please contact our Program Coordinator.)
    • Tell students you are impressed when you receive a report from the Writing Center showing that they were motivated and conscientious enough to go in for a visit.
    • Get students who have visited the Center to tell others in the class about their experience.
    • Tell your class about former students of yours whose writing has improved as a result of their visits to the Writing Center.
    • Talk to your students about your own writing process, and about the value of having a trusted reader who gives you honest, constructive feedback.  Many students are intimidated or embarrassed by the idea of getting help; therefore, it’s encouraging for them to know that even experienced writers need good readers.

Can the Writing Center help students who are struggling because English is not their native language?

Yes, we often work with ESL students.  However, it’s important to understand that ESL students have different needs than native speakers.  Although we try to explain the rules and quirks of the language, we are not equipped to “teach English” to them in a comprehensive manner; that would require much more time than we can provide in a one hour session.  You and they should also understand that we will not rewrite their sentences or correct every error for them.  Instead, we work to identify patterns of errors.  Writing in a second language can be a difficult and frustrating process that requires persistent practice outside the Writing Center in order to begin applying lessons learned in tutoring sessions.  Those ESL students who come to see us repeatedly and work hard between sessions gradually make progress, but you should not expect immediate results.

Will I know if one of my students uses the Writing Center?

We give students the choice about whether or not to have a post-session report sent to their professors. If the student wishes, we will send a brief email report to the instructor describing what we worked on and how much progress we made, or did not make (please keep in mind that depending on the student’s need for assistance, we can’t address everything in a single session).  Alas, in the hopes of “passing the buck” for their performance on a paper, occasionally students tell their instructors they went to the WC when in fact they did not.  If you do not receive a WC Report from us, but a student claims to have had a Writing Center appointment, please ask the student to forward you his or her copy of the post-session report or contact us so that we can check our records.  We keep electronic records for all students who use the WC.  If you ever have any questions about a student’s attendance or the comments on a report you received, please contact the Director.

I’ve sometimes had students visit the Writing Center and still turn in poorly written papers. How do you explain that?

We’re the first ones to acknowledge that not every session is an inspiring success. A number of factors can limit the amount of progress in a given session.  A prevalent one is what we call “the So What? paper.”  Oftentimes students who visit us do not have “writing” problems, per se – that is, they understand the formal requirements of a typical academic paper — but “thinking” problems.  They don’t fully understand the material (or care), and therefore produce a superficial paper that begs the question, “So what?  Why is any of this important?”  Even if we were experts on the topic (keep in mind, we’re writing tutors, not content tutors), we wouldn’t want simply to tell students what to say; that would violate the Honor Code.  And while we employ lots of techniques to prod a student’s thinking, we can’t make them form concepts they just don’t see.  In such cases, we suggest they talk to you, the professor.

Another frequent obstacle we encounter is the student who arrives the night before the due date with a paper that has more problems than we can address in one hour.  We have to set an agenda and make quick decisions about the most pressing problem. Again, as much as we might be tempted to make everyone happy by taking over the paper and “fixing it,” we can’t and don’t do that.  It can take an entire session to help a student generate supporting arguments or restructure a paper, leaving little or no time for other problems.  Think of the Writing Center as a place where students can get an objective response to their work, not a fix-it shop that will fix all of their problems while they wait in the customer lobby.  Our main goal is to keep students moving through the composing process, asking the kinds of questions and providing strategies to help them take the next step in revising.

If you have concerns or questions about a particular session, or if you want to send information to our staff about your own priorities and expectations for your students’ writing, please contact us at writingcenter@wfu.edu

How do I know that the Writing Center’s evaluation of a student’s paper won’t contradict mine?

Although there are times when we might focus on different areas of a paper than you would, our tutors are trained to avoid evaluating student work.  Our job is to provide students with an honest reaction to their work from the perspective of an uninformed but interested reader.  Instead of evaluating students’ work as “good” or “bad,” we try to describe where we get lost or have questions or need more information to fulfill the expectations of a general reader.  We try to help them see where their intentions match their words on the page and the criteria of the assignment.  While we try to be encouraging by responding enthusiastically to students’ ideas and efforts, we also tell students that their professors will read their work with a different level of expectations since they are the experts in the class and know what they are looking for.  One of our favorite sayings in the WC is students are responsible for the papers they turn in, and their instructors are responsible for evaluating them.