Using Writing Assistants


The Writing Center is available to students in the Learning Commons (Buckley 163) by appointment.

How do my students sign up for an appointment at the Writing Center?

Scheduling is done online, via the Learning Commons website. Students sign up for a time slot, and specify what their needs are. During the 30-minute session, students meet one-on-one with their Writing Assistant. Afterward, the Assistant emails a summary of the advice to the student, with a copy also going to the student’s instructor and to the Director. This “Conference Report” gives you proof of your students’ presence at the Writing Center, and a sense of the advice they’ve been given. (You are always welcome to contact the Assistant or the Director with any corrections to the advice.)

What if students complain that all available appointment slots have been taken?

Certainly students should be in the habit of booking appointments well in advance of assignment deadlines. But even in last-minute cases, remind them they can email our hotline to see if any Assistants will take an appointment outside their posted hours. Assistants are usually quite accommodating (provided students specify their availability and the type of assignment they need help on).

What do Writing Assistants do?

Assistants don’t ‘fix’ a paper, but, through sustained discussion, help writers sharpen their skills and intentions for their assignment – especially those their professor finds most critical to the student’s success. In the standard session, Assistants use triage-like skills to focus on the most urgent issues they find in the paper or draft. A typical session will involve questions to make the writer aware of higher-order issues such as organization and unity and lower-order problems such as confusing grammar or punctuation.

Does Peer Tutoring really work?

Research shows that students respond positively to writing suggestions and advice provided by peers who have taken the same courses and/or have responded to similar assignments. Research also shows that peer tutoring works best when the professor and peer tutor form a ‘closed loop’ of information, in which the tutor knows the professor’s assignments and knows exactly how the professor wants the peer tutor to help his or her students. Aware of such a closed loop, students have confidence in their Assistant’s advice and learn more.

How do I know that Writing Assistants are qualified to help my students?

Each year (around February or March), individual Departments or schools contact the Director with the names of a few majors who excel in both their interpersonal skills and their disciplinary writing. These outstanding writers then enroll in English 317: Composition Theory and Practice to receive a semester of extensive training in writing pedagogy and hands-on experience as tutors of university-wide writing. This process guarantees that Assistants have both generalist and discipline-specific skills to best serve our campus population as a whole.

Why should I send my students to the Writing Center?

All writers, whether struggling or proficient, can benefit from the opportunity of simply talking through their ideas, and of gaining an outsider’s perspective on their writing. Peer tutors can facilitate communication between student and professor by explaining assignments, deciphering comments, and/or pointing out patterns of errors the student might not have noticed. If the Assistants know you and your assignments, the results are better.

How does a Writing Assistant know what I want?

The best way to ensure that a tutor knows and does what you want is to provide the Writing Center with as much information as possible. Feel free to send your assignment to the collective Assistants through our hotline at in advance of its due date. If Assistants understand your requirements and directives first-hand, they will more likely ‘translate’ them accurately during tutoring sessions. Also, in comments on student papers, explain explicitly what you want them to work on with the Assistants (but note two or three issues, not an overwhelming number).

We also encourage you in the first weeks of each semester to have an Assistant come to your class to give a five-minute presentation on what the Writing Center can offer them. This helps personalize the relationship between you, your students, and a familiar Assistant. Simply email the hotline to mention your course, meeting time, and your interest in having a related Assistant give an introduction.

Can Assistants fix my students’ grammar?

Assistants can help students learn to improve some of their grammar problems, but, no, they can’t fix a writer who has many major problems with grammar. Assistants cannot effectively review a great many grammar rules with writers in a 30-minute session. But a professor may instruct a student writer to ask the Assistant for help on a few specific problems. If an Assistant notices further problems consistently recurring in a paper, he or she may point those out and suggest a return visit to address these issues in greater depth. For particular cases, you can have a student email our hotline to establish a Dedicated Writing Assistant – a helper who has a standing appointment with the student each week. Grammar, mechanics, and stylistic concerns require the patient attention of professors, Assistants, and students across years.


Connect. Learn. Succeed.