Writing center

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Many institutions of postsecondary education (and some of secondary education) maintain a writing center that provides students with free assistance on their papers, projects, reports, multimodal 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. Formats may include one-on-one tutoring, group tutoring, and workshop settings. Some services include drop-in, appointment, and weekly services. Writing centers generally rely on non-proscriptive 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] 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.


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. However, the tutor usually does not proofread nor edit the 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. This is based upon a large body of theory discussed in a later paragraph.


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]

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.[9] Another environment that could fall under this category is a physical space known as a digital studio.

While some institutions do not have writing centers, a number offer similar support through entities which have a wider remit (scope). These might typically be called Academic Skills Units[10][11] or Learning Development Groups.[12][13] Writing centers may be part of a writing studies department or stand-alone.[14]

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.

Writing centers are not exclusively a post-secondary phenomenon. Some high schools have successfully created writing centers similar to the model in higher education.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

Regional Variations[edit]

No longer strictly an American phenomenon, writing centers have spread in other world regions as well.[18] 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 (IWCA) 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.

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;[19] others may be more inclusive, serving students, faculty, staff, GED students, and the general public.[20] High school writing centers service enrolled students only.[21]


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.[22] The consultants may be working for pay or for college credit.[23] If the writing center offers workshop or group tutoring sessions, staff, experienced undergraduates, or graduates may serve in an unofficial or official TA capacity.[24] Writing center research has examined what effect each type of consultant has upon the writer seeking help.[25]

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."[26]

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. ^ North, Stephen (September 1984). "The Idea of a Writing Center". College English. 5. 46 (5): 433–446. doi:10.2307/377047. JSTOR 377047.
  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. ^ Boquet, Elizabeth (February 1999). ""Our Little Secret": A History of Writing Centers, Pre-to-Post Admissions". College Composition and Communication. 3. 50: 463–482. 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.
  9. ^ Inman, James; David Sheridan (2010). Multiliteracy Centers: Writing Center Work, New Media, and Multimodal Rhetoric.
  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. ^ WebHome < HSWritingCenters < TWiki
  16. ^ Gallagher, Chris (Fall 2009). "What Do WPAs Need to Know about Writing Assessment? An Immodest Proposal". WPA: Writing Program Administration. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  17. ^ Thompson, Isabelle (2006). "Writing center assessment: Why and a little how". Writing Center Journal (26.1): 33–54.
  18. ^ 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).
  19. ^ Carino, Peter (1995). "Early Writing Centers: Toward a History". The Writing Center Journal. 15 (2): 103–115. JSTOR 43441973.
  20. ^ "WRITING CENTERS TUTOR (ALL STUDENTS)", Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, Utah State University Press, pp. 57–80, ISBN 9780874219166, retrieved 2019-08-14
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ North, Stephen M. (1994). "Revisiting "The Idea of a Writing Center"". The Writing Center Journal. 15 (1): 7–19. JSTOR 43442606.
  23. ^ North, Stephen M. (1984). "The Idea of a Writing Center". College English. 46 (5): 433–446. doi:10.2307/377047. JSTOR 377047.
  24. ^ North, Stephen M. (1984). "The Idea of a Writing Center". College English. 46 (5): 433–446. doi:10.2307/377047. JSTOR 377047.
  25. ^ Harris, Muriel (1995). "Talking in the Middle: Why Writers Need Writing Tutors". College English. 57 (1): 27–42. doi:10.2307/378348. JSTOR 378348.
  26. ^ 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).

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