Finding the Right Words with the Writing Center
In collaboration with the Writing Center, Syracuse University News is starting a new series of stories, Tips for Better Writing, focusing on skills, techniques and suggestions for better writing. This first piece highlights the work of the Writing Center consultants who assist thousands of students every year.
Maybe the words aren’t flowing. Or you’re grappling with the organization for a complex assignment or even just debating a correct subject-verb agreement.
There’s a place—and a dedicated, skilled group of people—that can help.
Located in 101 Huntington Beard Crouse Hall, just off the patio, the Writing Center offers students free, one-to-one assistance with any writing concern that they may be struggling with—from development and organization to sentence structure and punctuation.
Trained writing consultants not only provide the guidance and technical expertise to help with a student’s specific assignment, but are also there to assist them with the bigger picture: the student’s progression as a writer.
“Our goal in the Writing Center is to help students become rhetorically aware, critical thinkers capable of adapting to a variety of writing situations, expectations and audiences,” Writing Center Administrator Ben Erwin says. “While an individual session may focus on a particular assignment or an individual piece of writing, our larger goal is helping students become better, more capable, more confident writers.”
Serving all students
The Writing Center serves all students, whatever major or discipline, and writing consultants work with students at any stage of the writing process on any type of writing assignment. They assist thousands of students of various academic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds on everything from formal academic writing to professional documents, applications and creative writing, Erwin says.
The Writing Center, which is part of the Writing Program in the College of Arts and Sciences, is staffed by professional (adjunct instructors), graduate (teaching assistants) and peer (undergraduates) writing consultants. They are available to meet with students in scheduled face-to-face and instant messaging sessions, and will answer questions via email.
Although each tutoring session is different, appointments typically start with a conversation about the student’s assignment and his or her goals for the session, says Erwin, who is also a composition instructor.
“If the student is near the beginning stages of a piece of writing, the appointment may include reviewing an assignment sheet or rubric, reviewing readings or other course materials, or brainstorming ideas and formulating an outline,” Erwin says.
If the student has a draft, the consultant will ask about the student’s concerns and then work on some strategies, including reading the text aloud to hear the flow of the narrative, identifying unclear ideas and noticing any error patterns.
“Consultants tend to focus on global concerns first—meeting assignment requirements, clarity of ideas, the overall structure of a text—before focusing on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure or syntax and diction,” Erwin says.
As he works with students during a semester, Erwin can see their development as writers and growing confidence. But sometimes it’s also just about being able to talk through a project and helping a student focus their thoughts.
Writing to your audience
For example, Erwin remembers one student who came to him needing assistance in formulating his thoughts to answer questions on an internship application. Erwin asked him about his experiences and why he was applying for the position, and they discussed the importance of writing to the audience in that genre of writing.
“I spent most of the session posing questions, listening to his responses and taking some notes; once he locked in on the idea of this application as a personal, narrative-based argument he was making, his ideas suddenly seemed to flow seamlessly,” Erwin says. “At one point he simply sat and wrote for nearly 10 minutes as I went from question asker and facilitator to mere bystander witnessing his writing process.”
As a writer, Erwin enjoys the meaningful conversations with students about writing.
“Consulting allows me to develop relationships with students, to get to know them, to better understand their perspectives and to adapt to their needs and preferences,” Erwin says. “Consulting offers a valuable window into students’ writing processes and thinking processes; I tend to get to see things in the Writing Center that I may not see when teaching in the classroom.”
Guttman is an intern with Syracuse University’s Student Social Media Team.