What Is the Writing Center?
The Writing Center is a school-sponsored resource which provides feedback on your writing. Peer consultants—students from a wide spectrum of majors on campus—are trained to read your papers and give you informed, critical responses to questions or concerns that you may have pertaining to a particular piece of writing.
How Does the Writing Center Work?
We will work with you on any writing project you bring to the center. When you come to the Writing Center, bring a copy of both your paper and the professor’s assignment and have some questions in mind to ask the consultant: What should I write about? Is my thesis precise and assertive? Is my argument convincing? Does my topic sentence direct and focus the material I put into this paragraph? Are my paragraphs coherent—do they hold together naturally? Does my conclusion bring closure to the rest of the paper? How do I write footnotes in the Turabian style?
Keep in mind, the Writing Center is not a "fix-it shop" where consultants correct your papers and make them perfect. Many students mistakenly think: "If I can just get all the grammar problems corrected at the Writing Center, I'll have a great paper," but writing is more than grammar—much more. Although we can help you with a grammar problem (a surface-level issue), there are other concerns that matter even more, such as whether or not your argument makes sense and is adequately supported (a deep-level issue).
Will the Writing Center Really Help?
Expect to improve.
In her book Error and Expectation, Mina Shaughnessy suggests that writing is primarily a behavior. Good writing is a habit; bad writing is a habit.To improve your writing, you need to establish good habits. Too many students wait until the day before a paper is due, and then they come to the Writing Center expecting a miracle. Under these circumstances, it is virtually impossible to address anything more than surface-level issues. To improve your writing significantly, you must learn how to identify characteristic weaknesses of your writing objectively.
Expect to work hard.
Research shows that the best way to improve your writing is by getting feedback repeatedly before a paper is due. If you get into the habit of bringing a draft of each paper to the Writing Center twice before it is due, your writing will noticeably improve over the course of an academic year. Expect to become a better writer, but remember what Quintillian says: “Nature has herself appointed that nothing great is to be accomplished quickly and has ordained that difficulty should precede every work of excellence” (Institutes 10.3.4).
What Else Can I Do to Improve My Writing in Each Class?
The most common student error is to misunderstand the assignment. Always spend time carefully reading each writing assignment to understand exactly what the professor expects of you. Also, find out what general requirements the professor looks for in his or her particular discipline; in other words, a biology lab report will be written differently than a philosophy paper. Learn to adjust your writing for different professors with different class requirements. Don't assume that one professor’s expectations will be the same as another’s.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Make the Process of Writing a Paper Easier?
- Make sure you understand what is expected of you. If you don't have a clear sense of what you are supposed to do, ask a friend in the class or (even better) the professor for clarification.
- Choose a topic you can become passionate about. Do not underestimate the importance of this step. Write about something you hate or love, strongly like or dislike; otherwise, you will get bored, and then your reader will, too.
- Brainstorm. E.M. Forster says, "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" Just put your rough ideas on paper; then transform them into your first draft.
- Write your first draft. Without much concern for grammar or spelling, write your first draft. Don't be a perfectionist! Just generate paragraphs of thought to be revised later.
- Revise your introduction, thesis, and paragraphs. The beginning of your paper cannot be boring! Your thesis must be restricted, unified, and precise. Make all your topic sentences clear. Keep what is valuable; discard what is not.
- Write another draft. Rewrite the paper, paying attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Bring your paper to the Writing Center for feedback (now or even earlier).
- Proofread, correct, and submit. Have someone else proof your paper, do minor revisions, and then scan it once more before handing it in.