Writing center

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Many higher education institutions (and some of secondary education) maintain a writing center that provides students with free assistance on their papers, projects, reports, multi-modal documents, web pages, et cetera from consultants.[1] Although writing center staff are often referred to as tutors, writing centers are primarily places for collaboration in which writers and tutors work together to help writers achieve their goals.[2] Typical services include help with the purpose, structure, function of writing, and are geared toward writers of various levels and fields of study. The goal is to help a writer learn to address the various exigences that they may encounter with the realization that no writing is decontextualized—it always addresses a specific audience. Writing centers may offer one-on-one scheduled tutoring appointments, group tutoring, and writing workshops. Services may also include drop-in hours. Writing tutors do not assign grades to students' writing assignments.


A writing center usually offers individualized conferencing whereby the writing tutor offers his or her feedback on the piece of writing at hand; a writing tutor's main function is to discuss how the piece of writing might be revised. Writing centers generally rely on non-prescriptive and non-corrective approaches[3] to construct a more complete account of how well a piece of writing aligns with the writer's aims.[4] In other words, a tutor usually does not proofread nor edit a student's work. Instead, the tutor facilitates the student's attempts to revise his or her own work by conversing with the student about the topic at hand, discussing principles and processes of writing, modeling rhetorical and syntactical moves for the student to apply, and assisting the student in identifying patterns of grammatical error in his or her writing. In other words, "[the job of writing tutors] is to produce better writers, not better writing."[5]

Writing Centers at Higher Education Institutions[edit]


Historically, writing centers in American universities began appearing as "writing labs" in the early 20th century.[5][6] Elizabeth Boquet and Stephen North point to the origins of the writing laboratory as first a method, not a place, where "the key characteristic of which appears to have been that all work was to be done during class time".[7] This was to allow the student to compose with the teacher present, able to help with any revisions or questions the student may have. However, as class sizes and universities grew, Writing Centers began to develop as university institutions, often conceived of as an editing service for students.[8] As post-secondary institutions began accepting more and more students, writing centers were created to help students who were struggling with their writing abilities.[7] It was also at this time when writing centers began to employ student tutors, who were more affordable to hire than faculty members.[7]

Location of Writing Centers[edit]

Writing centers may be centrally located at higher education institutions.[9] Centers may be located within a student success center, which may offer other academic support services to students such as study skills appointments and workshops.[9] These might typically be called Academic Skills Units[10][11] or Learning Development Groups.[12][13] Some writing centers may be part of a writing studies department or stand-alone.[14]

Some institutions also offer an Online Writing Lab (OWL), which generally attempts to follow the model of writing center tutoring in an online environment. These environments have been said to be a step toward a new model of writing centers, a model known as Multiliteracy Centers.[15] Another environment that could fall under this category is a physical space known as a digital studio.

Writing Consultants[edit]

Depending on the writing center and the target population, consultants may be undergraduate peer consultants, graduate consultants, graduate peer consultants, staff consultants, or faculty consultants.[16] The consultants may be working for pay or for college credit.[17] If the writing center offers workshop or group tutoring sessions, staff, experienced undergraduates, or graduates may serve in an unofficial or official teaching assistant capacity.[18] Writing center research has examined what effect each type of consultant has upon the writer seeking help.[19]

In many cases, writing center directors or writing program administrators (WPAs) are responsible for conducting writing center assessment, and must communicate these results to academic administration and various stakeholders.[20] Assessment is seen as beneficial for writing centers because it challenges them to assume the professional and ethical behaviors important not just for writing centers but for all higher education.[21]

Types of Writers Served[edit]

Writers served by these writing centers may vary depending on the setting. Post-secondary writing centers may serve undergraduate and graduate students in the same or separate facilities;[22] others may be more inclusive, serving students, faculty, staff, GED students, and the general public.[23] High school writing centers service enrolled students only.[24]

English-Language Learners[edit]

Writing centers may serve English-language learners from across academic disciplines who are undergraduate or graduate students at the institution. English-language learners receive one-on-one writing assistance with a tutor, who may be a peer or a writing specialist. The goal is to assist English-language learners with language acquisition and to help students feel more confident in their ability to write effectively in the English language.[25] Writing centers may develop resources and handouts for English-language learners on academic vocabulary and grammatical conventions.[26]

Some English Language Learners may access a writing center specifically for grammatical help and error revision from tutors. This may conflict with the philosophy of a writing center to help students become better writers through discussing the overall flow and organization of the paper, rather than focusing on sentence-level revisions.[27][28][29] Student tutors are generally taught not to edit papers during a session. Instead they are taught to collaborate on higher-level issues in their peer's paper. Much research has been done on if student tutors should take a more directive approach to teaching writing to English language learners. [30][31][32] Ultimately student tutors must receive training on how to effectively teach English as a second language at writing centers so that sessions are effective and meaningful for both English language learners and tutors.[32]

Writing Center Theory[edit]

Faculty, students, staff, and administrators often viewed writing centers as places for remediation. At their best, however, they are places where all students, including the best ones, can get better, a place (according to Karen Head), "that returns to the ideal of a safe space for active debate and discourse about the best ways to communicate in a variety of modes."[33]


No longer strictly an American phenomenon, writing centers have spread in other world regions as well.[34] The European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW) is in part concerned with the study and advancement of writing centers in European universities. The International Writing Centers Association is committed to supporting writing centers from around the world, with current regional associations in Europe and proposed associations in the Middle East, South Africa, and the Far East.

Writing centers are not exclusively a post-secondary phenomenon. Some high schools have successfully created writing centers similar to the model in higher education.[35]

A recent movement in writing centers has been to provide services for the non-academic community. Such services include one-to-one response for out-of-school writers, and workshops on a wide variety of topics. Such writing centers are often identified as community writing centers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "International Writing Centers Association".
  2. ^ Murphy, Christina and Steve Sherwood. "The Tutoring Process: Exploring Paradigms and Practices." The St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors, 2nd ed. 1-25. [8]
  3. ^ Fitzgerald, Lauren and Melissa Ianetta. (2016). The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors: Practice and Research. Oxford UP. pp. 47–52. ISBN 9780199941841.
  4. ^ Thonus, Terese. (2002). "Tutor and Student Assessments of Academic Writing Tutorials: What is 'Success'?" Assessing Writing, 8, 110-134.
  5. ^ a b North, Stephen (September 1984). "The Idea of a Writing Center". College English. 5. 46 (5): 433–446. doi:10.2307/377047. JSTOR 377047. S2CID 142801414.
  6. ^ Lerner, Neal. (July 2010). Chronology of Published Descriptions of Writing Laboratories/Clinics, 1894- 1977, WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies, No. 9. WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies.http://comppile.org/wpa/bibliographies/Bib9/Lerner.pdf. 8.26.19.
  7. ^ a b c Boquet, Elizabeth (February 1999). ""Our Little Secret": A History of Writing Centers, Pre-to-Post Admissions". College Composition and Communication. 3. 50: 463–482. doi:10.2307/358861. JSTOR . 358861 .
  8. ^ North, Stephen (September 1984). "The Idea of a Writing Center". College English. 5. 46 (5): 433–446. doi:10.2307/377047. JSTOR 377047. S2CID 142801414.
  9. ^ a b Yeats, Rowena; Reddy, Peter; Wheeler, Anne; Senior, Carl; Murray, John (2010). "What a difference a writing centre makes: A small scale study". Education and Training. 52 (6/7): 499–507. doi:10.1108/00400911011068450.
  10. ^ http://www.port.ac.uk/departments/studentsupport/ask/
  11. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YD7wQbBzh4k
  12. ^ http://www.plymouth.ac.uk/learn
  13. ^ http://www2.hud.ac.uk/uhbs/about/student_info/acu.php
  14. ^ Finer, Bryna Siegel; White-Farnham, Jamie (2017). Writing program architecture: thirty cases for reference and research. ISBN 9781607326274.
  15. ^ Inman, James; David Sheridan (2010). Multiliteracy Centers: Writing Center Work, New Media, and Multimodal Rhetoric.
  16. ^ North, Stephen M. (1994). "Revisiting "The Idea of a Writing Center"". The Writing Center Journal. 15 (1): 7–19. JSTOR 43442606.
  17. ^ North, Stephen M. (1984). "The Idea of a Writing Center". College English. 46 (5): 433–446. doi:10.2307/377047. JSTOR 377047. S2CID 142801414.
  18. ^ North, Stephen M. (1984). "The Idea of a Writing Center". College English. 46 (5): 433–446. doi:10.2307/377047. JSTOR 377047. S2CID 142801414.
  19. ^ Harris, Muriel (1995). "Talking in the Middle: Why Writers Need Writing Tutors". College English. 57 (1): 27–42. doi:10.2307/378348. JSTOR 378348.
  20. ^ Gallagher, Chris (Fall 2009). "What Do WPAs Need to Know about Writing Assessment? An Immodest Proposal". WPA: Writing Program Administration. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  21. ^ Thompson, Isabelle (2006). "Writing center assessment: Why and a little how". Writing Center Journal. 26 (1): 33–54.
  22. ^ Carino, Peter (1995). "Early Writing Centers: Toward a History". The Writing Center Journal. 15 (2): 103–115. JSTOR 43441973.
  23. ^ "Online Assignment Writers to Guide (ALL STUDENTS)", Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, Best Assignment Writers, pp. 57–80, retrieved 2019-08-14
  24. ^ Graham and Harris (Jan 2005). "Improving the Writing Performance of Young Struggling Writers: Theoretical and Programmatic Research From the Center on Accelerating Student Learning". The Journal of Special Education. 39 (1): 19–33. doi:10.1177/00224669050390010301. S2CID 143917714.
  25. ^ "About | English Language Learner Writing Center - Miami University". www.miamioh.edu. Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  26. ^ "Writing Resources |English Language Learner Writing Center - Miami University". www.miamioh.edu. Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  27. ^ Williams, Jessica (2004). "Tutoring and revision: Second language writers in the writing center". Journal of Second Language Writing. 13 (3): 173–201. doi:10.1016/j.jslw.2004.04.009.
  28. ^ Eckstein, Grant (2016). "Grammar Correction in the Writing Centre: Expectations and Experiences of Monolingual and Multilingual Writers". Canadian Modern Language Review. 72 (3): 360–382. doi:10.3138/cmlr.3605. S2CID 148386544 – via ERIC.
  29. ^ Moussu, Lucie (2013). "Let's talk! ESL students' needs and writing centre philosophy". TESL Canada Journal. 30 (2): 55–68. doi:10.18806/tesl.v30i2.1142.
  30. ^ Cogie, Jane (2006). "ESL student participation in writing center sessions". Writing Center Journal. 26 (2) – via Gale Academic OneFile.
  31. ^ Blau, Susan; Hall, John; Sparks, Sarah (2002). "Guilt-free tutoring: rethinking how we tutor non-native-English-speaking students". Writing Center Journal. 23 (1) – via Gale Academic OneFile.
  32. ^ a b Myers, Sharon (2003). "Reassessing the "proofreading trap": ESL tutoring and writing instruction". Writing Center Journal. 24 (1) – via Gale Academic OneFile.
  33. ^ Karen Head, "At the Center: Innovation in Research, Practice, and Service for 21st Century 'Writing Centers'," in: Humanistic Perspectives in a Technological World, ed. Richard Utz, Valerie B. Johnson, and Travis Denton (Atlanta: School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology, 2014), pp. 49-51 (49).
  34. ^ Birgitta Ramsey, Composition Programs and Practices in Sweden: Possibilities for Cross-Fertilization with the United States, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, 2008, UMI Number 3326719 (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 2008).
  35. ^ WebHome < HSWritingCenters < TWiki

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