What is the University Writing Center?

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Writing centers have existed on many university campuses for more than 20 years. They began largely as a response to the needs of non-traditional students, but they have endured because as they have grown and matured they have re-defined what it means to teach writing. A writing center provides a library of dictionaries, handbooks, and instructional materials. It often provides computers with word processors, spelling checkers, style analyzers, and grammar drills. Writing center tutors provide information about grammar rules, the conventions of research papers, and strategies for composing and editing. But the most important thing that a writing center provides is an opportunity for lively minds to grapple with ideas and meanings in a congenial and non-threatening atmosphere.

Our own University Writing Center provides far more than a proofreading service or remedial instruction in grammar. Writing Center tutors assist students in any part of the writing process, from understanding the assignment and generating ideas to revising and proofreading the final draft. The Writing Center provides space and time for students to discuss ideas and explore meaning, to freely engage in the trial and error that is part of learning to communicate effectively in a new discourse community.

The core pedagogy of the Writing Center is the one-on-one tutorial. In this way the Writing Center provides a natural complement to the traditional classroom. Although Writing Center tutors are writers themselves, and have expertise in the conventions and practices of formal academic writing, perhaps the most important role they play is as a sympathetic and informed audience for writing. The feedback tutors provide as readers often allows writers to discover and solve their own problems.

The Writing Center also offers twelve IBM compatible computers for student use. These are equipped with word processing software and have internet access. Tutors are available to assist students in the use of these programs, in both one-on-one and small group settings.

In general, Writing Center tutors do not make assignments, but help students with writing assigned in University courses. In certain cases, when the student is not currently enrolled in a course which requires writing, we will recommend a particular writing task. Writing Center tutoring is not, however, a substitute for writing required in academic courses.

Students often ask tutors to proofread and correct papers just before they are turned in. The Writing Center is not a proofreading or error-correction service. Our emphasis is on helping the students become better writers, and this means that they must learn to do their own work. In general, we recommend that students come to us in the earlier stages of the writing process so that we can help them plan and revise their writing. When they do come to us for proofreading, the tutor will read the paper to identify grammatical and stylistic problems, mark the errors in one typical paragraph or the equivalent, and explain the concepts behind the errors. The tutor will then return the paper to the student for proofreading. Everything we do is designed to place the responsibility for both communication and correctness on the writer.