What to Expect during a Writing Center Session

At some point in the writing process, most writers (including you!) can benefit from talking about their work with an interested and informed reader. Through conversation, Writing Center tutors or consultants serve as readers and sounding-boards. They are interested in ideas, in words, in language, and in written expression of all kinds. Tutors enjoy helping you find a topic, develop a thesis, support your ideas, organize a paper, and learn how to proofread and edit your work. Tutors ask lots of questions.

The questions begin on the WCONLINE contact/appointment form before you meet with a tutor: Are you writing a personal essay, prospectus, research paper, editorial, short story, lab report, blog, annotated bibliography, or something else? Who is your audience? How many pages? When is the assignment due? What style guide did your professor specify? Did your professor provide a sample or model?

After you explain the context of your paper, you’ll see more questions on the online form, this time about your writing process. Are you just beginning to think about the paper topic? Did you bring notes and an outline? A first draft?  A revision of a graded paper?  What aspect of what you’ve written most concerns you–and why?

When you meet face-to-face in ACAD 408 or online, your consultant may ask you to read your paper aloud—or volunteer to read it to you. Often, your ear will detect sentences that are short and choppy, perhaps incomplete, or the other extreme: long complicated sentences that are difficult to follow.  As an interested reader, your consultant may ask you to explain ideas in your paper, clarify what a sentence means, locate your thesis statement and main ideas in one or two of your paragraphs, or suggest you “take 5” and jot down a few specific examples or details to support your main points.

During the conversation, the consultant may suggest that together you consult a handbook, dictionary, or style guide to consider two or three repeated practices in your writing that are distracting to readers. Perhaps you switch tenses or use passive voice in several places in your paper. The tutor might show you where you forgot a comma or neglected to place quotation marks around a sentence from an Internet source. Together, you and the consultant will “crack a handbook” and study various ways to correct the problem. You might do some sentence-combining or refer to online exercises; then, you will choose and apply the solution you think best.

Sound like a conversation between a writer (you) and an interested reader (tutor or consultant)? Exactly. Tutors love to demystify, to question, to collaborate, and to make suggestions. What you choose to do with the advice is up to you. The ideas, the paragraphs, the sentences, the words, and the punctuation marks–all of these are yours, not the consultant’s. You call the shots.

At the end of the writing conference, you and the tutor together fill out a brief summary or progress report of what you worked on during your appointment. You should list any follow-up actions.  Most students prefer that the progress report be sent to their professor, but you can also email it to yourself and your advisor.