University Writing Center Blog

Posted on March 28th, 2024 by aiwitt

by Laura Carver

In the last blogpost, we covered the basic format of a session, established the three commonalities I found among Writing Center sessions (atmosphere, collaboration, and principle), and discussed some of what the atmosphere is like during a session. I left you with the question of how you and/or the consultant tell each other what needs to happen in the session.

In the session I had with my fellow consultant, Alexa, for this blogpost, we both shared the authority of the session, which means we both had power to tell the other what needed to happen. Even though Alexa and I were co-workers and had both undergone the same training for the Writing Center, Alexa still had a level of authority that I did not simply because she had not read my blogpost draft. Because of their training, consultants have a delicate level of authority, regarding the knowledge that they have of leading the session compared to the student writer. One of my fellow consultants said that the level of education of the writer is not relatable to the level of Writing Center training of the consultant. We are not experts on every single topic that is brought to the Writing Center, but we are experts on reading and writing – tools that are used to conduct a session.  However, the delicate level of authority is not just on the consultant’s side. During my session, because I knew more about how I wanted to communicate my topic than Alexa, I had more authority than Alexa did on writing about my topic. The writers have a delicate level of authority because they are more educated on their paper’s topic than the consultant. They know the professor and his expectations better than the consultant. As such, the consultant is never going to take over the laptop or printed essay from the writers because the writers are in control of their writing while the consultant guides the writer through the session. To keep this balance, consultants sit next to the writer, not across from them, thus further eliminating a barrier to transparency and openness of the session. The goal of the physical space and the consultants is to provide a relaxed and comforting atmosphere that encourages transparency.

However, because the session is peer-led does not mean that it’s a peer review. The Writing Center is not a peer review like what students come across in classes; however, there is a similarity, which includes the transferal of feedback from one peer to another. Peer review is what practically every college student is familiar with. A student sends their draft to a fellow student who then reads it and writes a couple sentences of encouragement and revisions. Let me be honest again. Everyone has had a peer review at some point in time where they have received that one comment of, “You’re doing great! I couldn’t think of anything to add.” Where the difference comes in between peer-led Writing Center sessions and a peer review is in the process of how writers receive feedback. The tutoring session process is much more in depth and consistent. We are collaborative. We don’t give writers a couple sentences and send them on their way. It is a conversation of back-and-forth feedback with each comment building off of the last. During my session with Alexa, after I had read my blogpost out loud, Alexa asked questions and I provided the answers. The physical act of answering Alexa’s questions generated ideas for my topic that hadn’t occurred to me. I asked questions about sections that I was concerned about, and Alexa asked questions that helped her understand what the purpose of my blogpost was which helped her formulate her feedback for me.

A principle that can be found in every Writing Center session is that we are there to help writers not their papers. There are many layers to this principle at the UWC. The first layer is the key to good writing is not making sure that every single comma is in the exact right place. If a writer wants to come in and wants to talk about grammar and punctuation, then we will work on grammar and punctuation because sometimes that’s what the professors look at the most anyway, but that will not improve the writer as a writer. Another layer of the principle that we will adhere to is the writer’s style. Tutoring writing is very different from tutoring biology or math or chemistry. It is more subjective and there’s more at stake when writers come in with their project. They are presenting their own words and whether they realize it or not, they are letting a small part of their personality and innermost self shine through. Their writing is a part of themselves and to tell writers that there is one writing style to follow is to tell them that what they just wrote is worthless. Writing is part of you, and nothing about you is wrong. Each writer is different and each essay, paper, portfolio, etc. is different. We strive to adhere to the writers’ style and to follow their voice in their paper. There is no universal rule to follow because we are here for the writer and what they expect to get out of their paper. Writers will often hear neither way is incorrect. We will never try to take over the writing project brought in. If it’s our voice that’s heard instead of the writer’s voice, then we are doing something wrong. A third layer of the principle is that there is no quick fix to any writing that writers bring in. We are here to help guide writers through the writing process that best fits them and to help them find their voice. We are not here for the professor’s expectations, although that can be part of what is talked about. We don’t “fix” papers. We help writers become more confident in the skills they already possess and push them to tap into those skills by asking thought-provoking questions.

My session with Alexa for this blogpost was just one type of session, and there are dozens if not hundreds of different scenarios that we consultants come across in a session. What to expect is different for every single session, depending on the material or what stage of the writing process you’re currently in. One of our jobs as writing consultants is to help you adapt to the type of session the best we can. Atmosphere, collaboration, and the principle I described above can help the writer adapt to any kind of session because it is these three things that are a part of every single session. Whether you come in for brainstorming, drafting, or polishing, we hope to make the writing process a little easier along the way.