University Writing Center Blog

Posted on March 6th, 2024 by aiwitt

by Laura Carver

My leg jiggled beneath the table as I waited anxiously for the writing tutor to sign on for the online session. I don’t need to be here, I thought, I’ve always been good at writing and have never needed to go to a tutor before. Why does the professor feel the need to require this? I was shaken out of my internal rant when the tutor signed on to the session. He asked me a couple questions about my paper to get to know the topic and purpose. I answered grudgingly. The tutor asked a question… a lightbulb went off in my head. I haven’t thought of that. The tutor asked a couple more questions. Upon leaving the session, I left with some major edits for my paper. Why did I have such an attitude while attending this session? The paper that I had written was a persuasive paper. I expected a lot of grammar and punctuation checks, which I knew I didn’t need. However, the consultant saw holes in my argument that I was unaware of because I had read it so many times and because – let me be honest – I was biased toward my own position. Why was I so resistant to go to a writing center? Well, like I said, I was cocky in my writing ability, but also – while I’m being honest with myself – I was nervous for someone else to read my writing especially for a persuasive paper. I didn’t want the consultant to find the holes in my argument because I liked it the way it was. When I saw the holes though, I realized that I was just being stubborn and unwilling to grow in my learning. As one of my fellow consultants said, you have to get used to talking about your writing, and the Writing Center provides a nonjudgemental and relaxed atmosphere.

What should you expect when you come into the Writing Center? When a writer enters the Center, the person at the desk greets and directs them to the consultant they scheduled a session with, and the consultant will greet them and proceed to ask questions about their paper to get to know more about the focus of the session. The consultant or the writer will then read the paper out loud and either stop at intermittent points or read the whole paper through to provide feedback, depending on the preference of the writer. This is a basic outline of how the average session is conducted. A lot of what to expect depends on the type of session, what kind of project the writer has brought in, what the writer wants to discuss, etc. A capstone paper is different from a short story. Brainstorming is different from polishing. No one can communicate what to expect in every session because every session is different. However, there are some commonalities that can generally be seen in most sessions that I’ve derived from my co-worker’s experiences attending the Writing Center, and my own experience attending a session for this blog post.

When I scheduled a session with one of my fellow consultants, Alexa, for this very blogpost, I was still surprised with the outcome, and I even work at the Writing Center. I read my draft out loud, and while I was reading out loud, I would pause when I heard something that didn’t sound right and asked what Alexa thought. She would respond, and at the end of my blogpost, she asked questions of clarification that enabled me to better shape what I wanted to communicate and how I could address my target audience. When some of the current writing consultants came to the Writing Center for the first time, they were surprised but pleased with the results of the session as well. One expected grammar issues but instead got help composing his piece. Another expected the consultant to point out what was wrong, but they instead talked about ideas, anxieties, and structure. From my experience and the stories that I heard from my fellow consultants, I identified three commonalities among the sessions that would be useful to a person having never attended a session before and that are important to us consultants while we are conducting the session.

The atmosphere stays the same no matter what kind of session or writing project it is and can include both the aura created from the physical space and the vibes that come from the consultants in the room. In both center locations on the IUPUI campus, when I first became a consultant, I was not expecting a brightly decorated room with round tables and chairs spread throughout the space, although I was pleasantly surprised. I realized that this was a room I could spend a lot of time in and where I could garner motivation and inspiration to write. My fellow consultants were also pleasantly surprised at the physical atmosphere of the Writing Center. Two consultants, who had both come from a different writing center, were relieved at what they found in the atmosphere because the one they came from was serious and angry. A few other consultants said it was cozy, lively, and vibrant. One consultant said that she left encouraged to come more often, and another said she was intimidated by the silence at first but eventually found it to be peaceful.

Another aspect of the atmosphere that we consultants try to incorporate is peer-led. Even with a few faculty working as consultants, every session that we conduct at the Center is with the aura of one peer talking to another, which is why the Writing Center employs undergrad and grad students. We are not professor-like. We know where you are and what you’re going through because we’ve been in the same place. I had a session with a student going over his dental school application, and I mentioned that I was in the process of completing my law school application. There was an immediate rapport that I had with the student because we were both going through the trenches of grad school applications at the same time. Despite the peerage and rapport that is conveyed there is also an authoritative atmosphere between the consultant and the writer. You may not be worried about the authority of the session, but do you want someone to tell you what to do or for you to tell the consultant what to do?

I leave you to ponder this question until part two of this blog post where I will dive further into the atmosphere of a Writing Center session and present the other commonalities that I found in how a Writing Center session is conducted!