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College Writing Center 101
(Continued from 1)

Make multiple trips to the writing center. If you come to the writing center looking for quick fix, you’re likely to be disappointed. But if you realize that becoming a better writer takes time and dedication, you’ll probably get a lot more out of your visits. That’s right, I said visits. As in more than one. No one starts turning out Hemingway-esque prose overnight, and if you really want to become a better writer, making multiple trips to the writing center to talk about your work will be helpful. Some centers might even allow you to schedule a weekly, recurring appointment with the same tutor. Meeting with the same tutor is a great strategy, because you get to work with someone who, over time, develops an understanding of your unique needs and writing style.

Be prepared. First, if you have a draft of your paper, print it out and bring it with you. Having a hard copy for the tutor to look over is a lot faster (and easier on the tutor’s eyes) than looking at a file on your laptop’s 13-inch screen. This also allows you to jot down quick notes in the margins of your paper. And, if you have the assignment, bring that with you as well. Knowing what the professor is looking for will help your tutor guide you in the right direction. You’d be surprised how many problems with academic writing can be traced directly to a simple problem - a student’s confusion about what their professor is really asking them to do.

Finally, keep an open mind. As an older student arriving on campus, you bring a significantly different set of skills and experiences to the classroom than do your younger counterparts. You may be returning to school after many years in a job that required extensive writing. Or you may be unnerved at the idea of being tutored by a graduate or undergraduate student many years younger than yourself. But rather than view these situations as negative, think about ways to turn them into positives. If you’re already an accomplished writer in one field, a meeting with a tutor may help you to identify ways to apply the skills that made you successful in your career to your academic writing. A younger tutor may be able to advise you on new trends in academia, such as using gender-neutral language, or the most effective ways to use the Internet for research.

In my experience as a writing tutor, older students were among the most dedicated and receptive individuals I worked with, since they usually came to the center with specific goals in mind and eager to learn. As an online handout available from the University of Kansas Writing Center points out, for returning students, “sentence-level skills may be superior to those of traditional students, but that is small consolation when trying to juggle real-world writing experiences with the expectations of academia.” A good tutor will be aware of the unique needs of non-traditional students, and find ways to address those needs in a tutoring session so the student can develop as a successful writer. As Robyn Parry noted in an article for Writing Lab Newsletter, adult students should realize that the writing center is “a useful tool that can help them make a smooth transition to formal education - and to writing.”

Online Resources

OWL: Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab.
Features numerous handouts on frequently asked questions about academic writing.

Ten Ways to Prepare for a Trip to the Writing Center.
A former tutor offers some tips about how to make the most of your trip to the writing center.

Writer’s Handbook from the University of Wisconsin, Madison Writing Center. Covers common types of writing assignments, as well as grammar, style, and citing sources.


Megan Elliott is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn, and a former writing tutor.

See also Proofreading Your Writing Assignments and Mastering the Writing Process.

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