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Consultant meeting with writer.

What to Expect: Visiting the Writing Center

Frequently Asked Questions for Writers

Frequently Asked Questions for Faculty

For Writers:

Who should visit the Writing Center?

Any UB writer is welcome to visit the writing center. This includes undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff.  

How should I prepare for my visit to the Writing Center?

You will be in charge during your consultation, so bring a clear sense of what you wish to work on. What do you think is going well so far? What problems are you having? What questions do you have? You may want to bring particular questions you have and some notes to remind yourself of what you want from the session. It is also a very good idea to bring your assignment sheet, if applicable, so that the consultant can understand your instructor's expectations. Your consultant is an experienced student, and he or she can sometimes help you to interpret the assignment sheet. You can work off of a printed copy or view the document on a laptop, but generally consultants prefer working with a hard copy. This allows you to make notes on your draft as you discuss it.  If you haven’t generated a draft yet, that is absolutely fine. It is sometimes a good idea to vist us during the earlier stages of your wriitng process for collaborative brainstorming and planning. Bring whatever notes you have, in that case.  

What can I expect when I come into the Writing Center?

You will be greeted at the door by our friendly reception staff.  You will be asked if you have an appointment or if you are dropping in.  If it is your first time at the Writing Center, you will be asked for some basic information so that you can be registered in our system.  Once you are in our appointment system, you can always make an appointment from our website. Next you will be introduced to your consultant, and you can start discussing your project. If you are dropping in, you may be seen right away, or you may have to wait a bit depending upon how busy we are. 

What is a typical session with a consultant like?

In a typical session, first you will get acquainted with your consultant. They will ask you to tell them about your writing project and what you would like to work on.  At this time, you can share the assignment sheet with them.  They may ask you about your writing process. Is this your first draft, or have you already gone through multiple revisions?  When it comes time to read the paper, depending upon the length and other factors, they might invite you to read the piece aloud, or the consultant may read the piece aloud while you listen.  If the piece is long, the consultant might read it silently, but specific portions might be read aloud during the process of discussion.  As the paper is being read, both you and the consultant should feel free to stop and discuss specific passages.  Remember that you are in charge of your session.  You are the expert on what you are trying to convey through your writing.  The consultant helps by asking you clarifying questions, suggesting strategies, and assisting you to think about rhetorical issues such as audience, purpose, genre, and so on.  A typical session lasts 30-45 minutes.  You may not be able to address all aspects of the piece of writing, but ideally you should leave with a clear plan for making significant improvement.  If you would like to schedule another appointment, stop by the reception desk on the way out or make an appointment on our website. 

Who are the consultants?

Our consultants are writers and students just like you.  Some of them are undergraduate students who are strong writers and who have taken an advanced course preparing them to help others in writing.  Others are MA or PhD students who are involved in their own writing projects.  None of us are experts, all of us are writers, and we all face challenges and dilemmas in the writing process.  "Talking it out," discussing concerns, and making plans for revision are all part of writing well. Please don’t expect our consultants to be content experts!  They do not know everything about your major or the course you are taking.  However, they know how to approach a writing project, and they can be a thoughtful reader for your piece.  

Which consultant should I choose?

We work within a peer mentoring model of writer development.  If you are a graduate student, you should only make an appointment with a graduate consultant.  Choose an MA or PhD level consultant as is appropriate.  Undergraduates working in 100 and 200 level coursework should only make an appointment with one of our undergraduate consultants.  These consultants have special preparation for the first year writing courses; they have recently and successfully negotiated the challenges of writing in the undergraduate curriculum.  Undergraduate visitors often find it refreshing and empowering to work with someone nearer their age and stage in the educational journey.  Advanced undergraduates or those working on high stakes projects such as applications or personal statements may select either an undergraduate or graduate consultant with whom to work.  Regular visitors often find one or more specific consultants with whom they especially enjoy working.  

How does the Writing Center help international students?

Here at the CEW, we enjoy working with international undergraduate and graduate students.  We admire students who are doing university level work in a foreign language!  International students may take advantage of our individual consultation service as needed, or they may create a weekly or biweekly appointment with a compatible consultant.  These ongoing appointments attend to your particular writing needs as well as help you to accelerate your proficiency in written English.  Sitting down and talking with a consultant is also good for your English speaking skills.  While we do not edit papers for students, we can help you to work on grammatical patterns in your writing.  However, we will not neglect your development as a writer communicating important ideas; come prepared to have an interesting discussion about the ideas in your piece and your strategies for expressing those ideas. 

In addition, during the regular semester, we host a daily English Conversation Corner in our conference room for international students to practice their conversation skills with our native speaking consultants.  Bring a cup of coffee or tea, enjoy cross-cultural dialogue, and make new friends!   

What do you mean you aren’t an editing or proofreading service?

Like writing centers across the nation, our mission is to contribute to the development of writers.  Our training and expertise lies in our ability to help others to understand the writing process in more empowering ways and to grow in confidence, skill and effectiveness.  Our mission is not to fix papers or edit writing for students.  We will not proofread your paper line by line for you.  We will not locate and/or fix every error.  We certainly can help you to work on grammar, style, and general editing skills, if you establish that as a priority.  Because learning requires active participation, you will be actively involved in any work on sentence level issues. We may talk about strategies, introduce you to tools that will help you, and assist you to become aware of the patterns in your own writing.  We may, for example, find a pattern of error in one paragraph and show you how to fix it and then ask you to apply that knowledge to the second paragraph.  We would then see your progress in the second paragraph and discuss that.  Rather than attending to every issue, we may try to ascertain which issues are most interfering, and focus our attention on those.  Having someone proofread your essay line-by-line will not help you to become a better writer.

Think of it this way:  if you visited a tutoring center for math, you would not hand the tutor your homework and say, "I just need you to fix my calculation errors."  Rather, you would expect to leave the session understanding the concepts of the homework in such a way that you would be able to perform them independently in the future.  Learning to write well works the same way.  In fact, the more complex your ideas and sentences become, the more likely it is that there will be some mechanical errors or stylistic awkwardness in these sentences!  Errors are a part of the process of growing and developing as a writer and a thinker. 

If you are seeking an editor or proofreader, you do not need a writing center expert.  It may be that exchanging papers with a friend is a good practice.  For graduate students with large, high stakes projects, we do maintain a list of editing services that are either paid for by your graduate student fee or that can be acquired on a freelance basis. 

Will I get a better grade on my essay if I come into the Writing Center?

You might!  Remember the writing center is a tool that motivated students use to become more effective communicators.  However, the grades that you get are earned by you.  Our consultants cannot get a specific grade for you, nor can they accurately predict what grade a professor will assign to you.  Consultants will not focus attention on all aspects of a piece of writing, only what can be reasonably and coherently addressed in a particular session.  It is up to you to apply the insight that you and your consultant have collaboratively created in your session.  It may be that some insight or learning that takes place in this session will end up making a difference in a future assignment.  Always we are focused upon your development as a writer.   Assignments are signposts on that journey. 

What if my professor has assigned me to come into the Writing Center?

That is fine, but we hope that you also have an interest in being here.  While you are here, think of what you can get out of the session and take advantage of the opportunity.  If your professor needs verification of your visit, ask for a consultation verification form at the end of your session.  We hope you will have a great experience and come back to visit us whenever you need some help with your writing.  

My professor told me I need to work on my grammar. Can you help me with this?

Usually problems with sentence structure are decreased through careful reflection, revision, and proofreading.  Consultants will help you identify repeating patterns of sentence structures, punctuation, and errors. They will help you develop proofreading skills, such as reading aloud.  We, however, do not fix papers as our goal is that you become a more reflective writer.

Can the Writing Center help with group projects?

Yes!  If your group would like to come into the center to get help with a group project, one of our consultants would be happy to meet with you. We can assist you early in the process as you design a plan for writing collaboratively or later as you refine the project.   Please do not have one group member come in with a collaboratively written document.  We will not focus on a piece of writing unless the author is present. 

Can the Writing Center help me with take-home exams?

Generally, if a piece of writing is identified as an exam, we need the professor’s permission to work with a student.  If you are unsure of whether your professor will allow you to bring a take-home exam to the CEW, please ask him or her for verification.  The professor can email us with permission (writing@buffalo.edu) or can put permission on the assignment sheet.  However, with any piece of writing, our consultants do not contribute ideas or content knowledge.  We simply guide you toward expressing your own knowledge, understanding or ideas in an effective manner. 

What should I do after my appointment at the Writing Center?

Toward the end of your session, you and your consultant should work out a plan of action for your next steps.  Soon after the appointment, you should sit down with any notes that you have from the session, look at your draft with fresh eyes, and do some decision making.  Remember, you are in charge of your draft; you are the expert on what you want to say.  You can decide what suggestions or ideas that arose in the consultation should be applied in your revision. 

Does the Writing Center offer classes?

The Center for Excellence in Writing offers individual consultation services and some workshops.  We do not, at this time, offer classes.  Aside from the first year composition sequence and creative writing workshops, the English Department offers an undergraduate Technical Writing course.  For international students, the English Language Institute (ELI) which is on the 3 Floor of Baldy offers some writing courses as well as conversational courses.  For graduate students, there is a bit of a dearth of writing course resources.  Since graduate students need to write in their disciplines, (a dissertation or thesis in the sciences is quite a bit different than one in the humanities, for example), generalized writing courses may not be particularly helpful, and courses offered within specific departments are preferable.  You can check with your department to see what may be offered.   Alternatively, feel free to come to the CEW on an ongoing basis to work with a consultant on your particular writing needs.  The CEW will continue to advocate for the offering of writing courses within specific disciplines.  If we can be of any other help, please let us know.

For Faculty:

What kind of experience should my students expect at the CEW?

Your students should expect to have a friendly conversation with a consultant who may be considered a more experienced peer. We hire consultants who are strong academic writers and teach them the best ways to help writers to develop.  The session will be driven by the student's own concerns (e. g. “I am having trouble figuring out how to organize this,” or “I am not sure about my thesis”). Students will be encouraged to “talk out” any questions, dilemmas, obstacles, or concerns that they have about their writing and the assignment. A student might request and receive some honest feedback from the consultant, in which case the consultant will note the strengths of the draft and one or more manageable areas to focus upon for improvement.  The student should walk out of the session with a clear plan for revision.

May I send my students to the CEW to get the grammar in their paper cleaned up?

In short, no.  We are not an editing or proofreading service.  We will not go through a piece of writing line-by-line finding errors and fixing them.  Think of it this way.  Would a mathematics professor send a student to a tutoring center to have the tutor find and fix the student’s calculation errors?  No.  That professor would expect the tutoring center to help the student to understand the process by which correct answers are derived.  The tutor might give the student process tips for picking up careless calculation errors. The same is true in a writing center.

For every student, errors are a part of the learning process.  As students are confronted by the more complex ideas of the University, their sentences also grow more complex, thus the level of errors can actually temporarily increase during the process of intellectual growth and development.  If the grammatical competence of an English-language learner is interfering with his or her ability to successfullly do university work, we will help the student develop reading and revision strategies. In such cases, we will use student drafts as tools to identify patterns of error and to create a manageable focus for learning. Unlike having a paper proofread, the student would be actively involved in the learning process. 

Most of our conversations in the Writing Center address more global issues such as clarifying the writer's ideas, discussing organizational strategies, striving toward credible support for claims, and so on.  For graduate students finalizing large projects or preparing manuscripts for publication, we do maintain a list of editing services that are either paid for by graduate student fees or that can be reasonably obtained on a freelance basis. 

Should I require students to visit the CEW?

This is a complicated issue, but in most instances, the answer would be no.  Learning to write mostly occurs  when it is the student who seeks out the assistance at the point of need.  Otherwise, the student might be making a perfunctory appearance in the Writing Center rather than coming in with specific questions or a specific agenda.  However, since the CEW is a relatively new entity, we do hope that you will make the students aware of the resource, encourage them to come, and speak directly with students who seem particularly in need of assistance.  If you want to require your student(s) to come to the CEW for a particular reason, we would be happy to discuss it.  You may want to send us an email (writing@buffalo.edu) to let us know your student(s) will be coming in and perhaps send a copy of the assignment sheet. 

How can I know if my student visited the CEW?

Students can request a Consultation Verification form that will be stamped and signed by CEW staff.  If permission is granted from the student, we can also email you a copy of the Client Notes from our system, letting you know about the focus of the session. 

I have a student about whom I am particularly concerned. Can she arrange ongoing, regular appointments?

Absolutely.  The student can, with the help of our administrator, set up regular weekly or biweekly appointments.  If the student has found a consultant with whom s/he is particularly comfortable, s/he can meet regularly with that consultant.  Feel free to email us, or you can just send them in with the instruction to set up ongoing support appointments with our administrator.  If a student’s writing ability is jeopardizing his academic success, this is an especially valuable option. 

What do you do for international and/or ESL students?

International students have enthusiastically embraced our individual consultation services and are welcome to come in as needed or make ongoing, regular appointments.  We also have a daily English Conversation Corner for international/ESL students seeking to practice their speaking and pronunciation skills as well as meet new friends and share cultural information.  For more information on working with the CEW to support English Language Learning (ELL) students, refer to WID and Second Language Writers.   

I sent my student to the CEW and there are still grammatical problems in his essay. How do you explain that?

Since we are not a proofreading or editing service, essays will not emerge from the CEW scrubbed of all errors.

Many times writers come in to the CEW with early drafts, needing assistance working out larger rhetorical and organizational issues; they are not even ready for the proofreading stage. It doesn't make sense to polish sentences that might be edited out or revised for meaning. If a student comes into the Writing Center specifically to work on proofreading, our consultants will teach proofreading strategies and/or examine the patterns of error in the work and focus on one or two of the most interfering patterns.  This is the pedagogically sound practice that will increase writer competence.  The consultant might, for example, notice a pattern of subject/verb inconsistency and locate those issues in one or two paragraphs with the student.  Then the consultant might have the student work on the following two paragraphs, finding subjects and verbs and testing to see if they are consistent.  The consultant would then go over the changes the student has made and clear up any misunderstandings that remain.  The consultant might give the student a resource on this issue to reinforce the learning that has occurred.  In this process, the consultant may have overlooked comma errors, for example, seeing these as less interfering and saving them for another session.  

I sent my student to the CEW and his essay is still pretty weak. Are your consultants really qualified?

Our consultants are strong academic writers themselves; they have pedagogical coursework and experience with writing instruction.  However, they cannot take ownership or control over your students’ papers.  They are a resource that students can use to enhance their academic performance.  While we try to get writers to articulate a plan for revisions, we cannot control the revisions that the writer chooses to make.  Also the essay that you see may be significantly improved from the essay that the writer brought into the Center.  Every writer is unique in their ability to fulfill different writing tasks. One conversation in the Writing Center may not significantly affect the current draft, but might be applied in a future writing situation. 

I have a doctoral student who is really stalled out in the dissertation process. What can the CEW do to help?

We can help in several different ways.  First, we employ PhD level consultants, some of whom are far along in their dissertation processes.  It can be helpful for a dissertator to step out of the isolation of their process and talk through dilemmas with a fellow doctoral student.  We have found that dissertation writers who pair up for regular appointments with one of our doctoral level consultants have  made significant progress.  Second, we have Dissertation Retreats  four times yearly.  These retreats give writers the space, support and guidance to make significant progress on their projects.  Many success stories of dissertators moving from paralysis to completion have come out of our Dissertation Retreats. Third, we can help faculty and departments develop graduate student writing groups.  As accountability groups or peer reader groups, these groups can help with completion rates.

I notice that you employ “consultants.” How is that different than tutors?

When we think of tutoring, we think of additional instruction or going over material.  Learning to write is different than learning other academic subjects because it entails many choices, obstacles, intellectual processes, and emotions. Meeting with one of our consultants is a different experience than “being tutored”  as our goal is to nurture the writer's (author)ity as s/he becomes adept with the genres, methods, and jargons of their disciplines. As well, engaging with peers is a normal part of any writer’s process.  Rather than telling writers what to do or giving them instruction (tutoring), our peer consultants will help writers reflect on the natural tensions of the writing process, providing a sense of audience, asking them questions that will help them articulate their purposes, and giving them strategies to help them strengthen an argument.