Getting the Most out of the Writing Center

By Aaron Smale

If you haven’t been to see us in a while, or if this is your first time looking into the Writing Center, you may not see the point of things like agendas and summary reports. You may even see these things as a waste of time, or things that only get in the way of working on your paper. However, using agendas can help you and your consultant agree on strategies to effectively approach your goals within a session—no matter what stage of the writing process you’re at. If there are goals on your agenda that you were not able to get to in a session, the summary report helps to indicate what you’ll do next, especially when moving between stages in your writing process.

Here is how we’ve broken down the writing process.

Prewriting
  • Understand the assignment expectations
  • Choose a topic
  • Narrow the focus
  • Determine what you already know
Researching
  • Identify, read, and understand the available research on a subject
  • Determine credibility of sources
Planning
  • Decide what information is needed
  • Determine what you want to say—evidence supported opinion
  • Prioritize and organize key claims and supporting points
Drafting
  • Write out what you want to say in sentences and paragraphs
  • Do not worry about editing
  • Get ideas into a working document
Revision
  • Focus on higher order concerns: tone and style, development, credibility, and integration of sources
  • Review organization
  • Expand ideas, build on connections, strengthen arguments and analyses
Editing and Proofreading
  • Decide what information is needed
  • Determine what you want to say—evidence supported opinion
  • Prioritize and organize key claims and supporting points

With this breakdown, you and your consultant can identify where you are in the writing process and what your goals are. Identifying the stage of the writing process that you’re at can help set realistic goals within the time frame and allows you to choose strategies that are the best fit for your goals. Remember, strategies used and the length of your document may change how you set and prioritize an agenda.

Once you’ve figured out where you are in the writing process, you and your consultant can link your writing goals to appropriate strategies. Whether you’re trying to understand the assignment expectations and choosing a topic in the prewriting stage, deciding what information you need and the things you want to say during the planning stage, organizing your paragraphs and analysis in the revision stage, or fine tuning and polishing your language in the editing stage, several strategies are available that can work well within the session.

STRATEGIES TO ASSIST THE WRITING PROCESS

Prewriting

Researching

Planning

Drafting

Revision

Editing and Proofreading

Discussion

Prewriting / Researching / Planning / Drafting / Revision

  • Identifies issues with clarity
  • Identifies audience awareness
  • Identifies purpose and goals in the document
  • Clarifies conventions of format
  • Clarifies expectations of assignment
  • Makes an argument manageable
  • Frames new ideas in relatable ways
  • Combats “Writer’s Block”

Brainstorming

Prewriting / Planning / Revision

  • Connects ideas to requirements of assignment and/or audience
  • Plans focus of paper and narrows ideas
  • Prioritizes ideas (e.g. cluster diagram)
  • Establishes what the writer is comfortable writing about and/or what they know most about
  • Helps with prewriting and combats “Writer’s Block”
  • Identifies possible research opportunities

Comparative Writing

Planning / Drafting / Revision

  • Identifies a main purpose
  • Helps to identify new perspectives, goals, and ideas for analysis/inquiry
  • Identifies options to begin argument or analysis
  • Narrows topics and aspects of argument

Read Aloud

Planning / Revision

  • Student reads aloud—can promote confidence in writer’s own identity
  • Consultant reads aloud—writers can experience their writing from another person’s perspective
  • Identifies areas that would benefit from specific details by prompting questions from an unfamiliar reader
  • Establishes audience awareness
  • Identifies sentence-level concerns
  • Helps with editing and proofreading

Reverse Outline

Drafting / Revision

  • Checks for development and relevance throughout the document
  • Sets up revision opportunities
  • Identifies where too many ideas exist in a paragraph or when one idea is not developed enough
  • Creates a tangible way to check coherence or unity throughout the document

Citation Review

Revision / Editing and Proofreading

  • Demonstrates how to build ethos, credibility
  • Helps to avoid plagiarism
  • Helps to check that resources support analysis/argument
  • Highlights issues of formatting
  • Addresses requirements of assignment/course

Editing/Sentence-Level Work

Editing and Proofreading

  • Helps to “clean up” sentences
  • Formalizes language and tone
  • Establishes sentence variety and style
  • Identifies opportunities for transitions within a paragraph
  • Highlights patterns of grammar and punctuation

These strategies give you several options to approach your goals at any stage of the writing process. Let’s take “comparative writing” as an example: If you’re at the planning, drafting, or revision stage of your paper, comparative writing can help narrow topics and aspects of your arguments as you compare your perspectives and what you know about your topic with that your consultant knows about it. Take several minutes writing down whatever you feel is important to the topic of your paper or assignment. This strategy can also help you plan where to begin your argument or analysis and how to narrow your claims by comparing your perspectives to those of your consultant, asking questions, and discussing the differences in your perspectives.

However, comparative writing wouldn’t be useful at different stages of the writing process, such as planning, researching, or editing and proofreading, because your perspectives on your topic are fairly set at these stages, and comparing your perspective to your consultant’s may not accomplish the goals you have for the assignment. Since comparative writing is not the best choice if you’re looking for how to gather resources, having a discussion about what your topic is and how to find targeted resources may be a better fit to your goals. Likewise, reading papers aloud can help with sentence-level concerns and establishing audience awareness (among other things), and different strategies are more effective for other goals.

By using the information here to structure an agenda, identify useful strategies, and think about what you’re going to do next, you’ll be able to get substantial work done with the session and beyond.

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