Can I require my students to use the Writing Center?

Well, we really wish you wouldn't. Here's why: Too often, students who are required to use the Writing Center see our services as a punishment or as evidence of their incompetence as writers or as students. Occasionally, students who are required to use the Writing Center come in feeling that this is just another hoop to jump through; they are convinced that they have no need to talk with other writers about writing, that their writing is just fine as it is. Neither insecurity nor over-confidence offer productive conditions for learning or for writing well; nor do they make for productive Writing Center consultations. When writers choose to come to the Writing Center, they tend to be highly motivated, interested in learning more about themselves as writers and about the work of writing, and willing to be active participants in the consulting process. These are the writers we are best prepared to work with and most able to help.

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

Great question! We have a number of suggestions for you. Invite us to come do a presentation about the Writing Center early in the semester. We're not sure why, but we know that students who are exposed to our work through those presentations show up in the Writing Center. Add a reminder about the Writing Center to your syllabus. You can find a ready-made blurb here on our website. Talk about your own writing processes with your students and tell them about the people with whom you exchange ideas, to whom you describe your projects, and who read your work in progress. Ask your students to write multiple drafts and remind them of our services as you do.

How come my students visit the Writing Center, but still hand in papers with grammatical errors?

Well, probably that's because we aren't a copy-editing service. Our work is the teaching of writing one-with-one. We worry that students won't learn too much if we proof-read and correct their papers for them. We try to strike a balance between helping writers to complete their writing projects in ways that make them proud and helping writers to become better, stronger writers in the long term. Within this context, we work with writers to prioritize their needs and interests both with regard to the project at hand and their long-term development. Our conversations with writers range among topics like concept development, sustaining an argument, suiting voice to purpose, organization, introductions and conclusions, audience awareness, citations, and editing strategies, to name only a few. Most of our consultations are sharply focused on one or maybe two of these priorities. We are committed to facilitating consultations so that writers leave with a strong sense of what to work on in their writing and how to prioritize that work.

I think my students are plagiarizing their papers. What can you do to help me?

Yikes. There's little more frustrating in the life of a teacher than discovering that a student has plagiarized a paper. We think teachers and Writing Center consultants need to talk honestly with student-writers about academic integrity and about plagiarism in particular. We will partner with you in having those conversations with students either in a workshop setting or in one-with-one consultations in the Writing Center. One thing we're pretty sure of in the Writing Center is that intent matters. Some students take the words of others without any real awareness that, in this cultural context, to do so is to perpetrate theft. We try to remember that writing conventions vary by language and culture; in some international contexts, uncited quoting or paraphrasing of others' work is normal, expected, and, in fact, rewarded. So our practice is to figure out what writers know about academic integrity and plagiarism in U.S. Colleges and Universities and to teach openly and honestly what we know. In the Writing Center, our practice is to ask students about their work, to try to discern their understanding of the idea of plagiarism and their intentions in using the words of others. We want student-writers to understand why citation is critical in academic writing and how to make informed decisions about when, whom and how to cite.