Go from Good to Great: Using Your College’s Writing Center

By Patricia Gorden Neill - June 28th, 2013

One of the most underused resources at most colleges is the writing center. Of course, you already know how to put a sentence together; it’s unlikely you would be in college if you didn’t. But being able to write an acceptable sentence is a long way from being an exceptional writer. Your college’s writing center can help you go from good to great. Taking full advantage of this resource will put you ahead of your peers when all of you begin competing in the working world.

While every college’s writing center will be slightly different, most will offer writing workshops, on-site tutoring, advice on nearly all kinds of writing, help with research and term papers, theses, dissertations and even business writing such as resumes, cover letters and creative writing. Some writing centers accept walk-ins, but most ask students to set up an appointment. Other colleges may offer an online tutoring service, where you email your paper to the center and the tutor returns your paper with valuable writing advice. Check with your college’s writing center for their specific set up, services and rules.

Writing center staff can help you at every stage of writing, from brainstorming to research to first draft to final editing and proofreading. While writing tutors will not proofread or edit your paper, they will show you how to apply these skills to improve your work. Tutors can help you with documenting your paper and citing sources in whatever style is required. They can even assist you in getting started if you’re experiencing writer’s block. They’ll happily show you how to generate ideas for compelling papers.

Some students feel that using the writing center implies a lack of writing ability or even stupidity. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Regular trips to the writing center shows your dedication to improving your writing ability. Use the following tips to get the most out of your college’s writing center.

Plan Ahead

The minute you realize you might be having problems with a paper, call the writing center for an appointment. The more time you can give a writing tutor for working with you, the more she’ll be able to help you. By going for a tutoring session far enough in advance of the paper’s due date, you’ll be able to revise according to the advice you receive and get to work on the next draft. Waiting until a day or two before the paper is due means you’ll have very little time to improve your paper.

Come Prepared

No matter what stage you’re in of the writing process, when you go for a session with the writing tutor, bring everything along that can help clarify the problem you’re having. You can’t get started? Bring the assignment and the tutor can help with brainstorming topics. You’ve got your topic and research done, but don’t know where to start? Bring the assignment, the books and your ideas with you. The tutor can give you the most help if he knows exactly what the problem is. So bring all the stuff with you, including drafts of your paper, sample essays, research notes and even the grammar handbook. You might not need every single thing, but if you do, you have them handy and can make the best use of the time.

Have Questions Ready

One of the most helpful things you can do is prepare in advance by re-reading your draft. Use the paper’s margins for questions you might have about your paper such as, is this section clear? Do I need more detail in presenting the argument? Should I cut this paragraph in two? Does this sentence make sense to you? By preparing some questions ahead of time, you’re actively participating in the process, and your tutor will find it all the easier to clarify things for you.

Make Multiple Trips

Don’t be afraid to make multiple trips to the writing center. Depending on the center’s rules, you may even be able to get a weekly session with your tutor. Take advantage of this if it’s possible. Your organization, research, writing and editing skills will improve as you attend the sessions. Your tutor will help you understand what’s involved in every stage of the writing process. Put in the time, effort and attention to detail, and you need never fear a writing project again.

Getting involved with the writing center in your freshman year, asking questions, receiving advice and actively working on improving your writing skills will greatly enhance the rest of your college career. Becoming a good writer takes time and effort and starting the process early on in college will give you the time and assistance you need to go from good to great.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.