What to Expect from a Writing Center ConferenceWriter's Web
Ryan Jackson
(printable version here)

What Writers Should Expect from a Writing Center Conference:

The University of Richmond Writing Center is a place where students can bring any piece of writing they are working on, no matter what draft or what genre of writing, and receive feedback from a student Writing Consultant. A writing conference lasts 30-50 minutes on average.

Writers can expect to:

  • Receive advice and assistance primarily on content-based aspects of their piece of writing.
  • Feel comfortable and relaxed in a conference at the Writing Center. Remember that the Consultants are students too!
  • Not feel intimidated or inferior by any commentary or advice given by a Consultant. The commentary and advice given by Consultants are simply suggestions and ideas meant to help students focus their arguments, elaborate on the existing work, and come up with new ideas.

What Students Should (and Should not) Expect from a Writing Consultant:

Writing Consultants are students just like you! Don’t be afraid of them! Consultants may be thought of as peers, writing coaches, or any title that makes you feel comfortable. Each Consultant has completed a semester-long course which teaches them effective conferencing techniques as well as help in writing helpful commentaries on different types of writing.

Writers should expect the Consultant to assist them with any type of writing during any stage in the writing process. Writing Consultants are trained to make comments and suggestions on your work that will help you formulate and elaborate on your ideas. Writing Consultants will address the parts of your piece of writing which necessitate the most guidance first. The Consultants will be most concerned with aspects of writing such as organization, formulation of a strong thesis, style, and writing to the correct audience.

Writers should not expect that a conference at the Writing Center is equal to a trip to the grammatical fix-it shop. Writers may expect help with grammar and punctuation after the more important aforementioned issues are addressed in the conference; however, the Consultants will not correct your paper for you. Instruction on grammar and punctuation from a Writing Consultant may constitute handouts from Writer's Web, or instruction on certain grammar and punctuation problems meant to teach the student how to apply the correct usage to their own paper.

Writers also should not expect the Consultant to send them away from the conference with a perfect paper in hand. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect piece of writing! The Consultant should always offer to schedule another conference with a student if the student desires more feedback. The motto of our University of Richmond Writing Center is the same as many other writing centers throughout the country. As Consultants, we strive to “produce better writers, not better writing” (North).

Appropriate Writing Center Conference Preparation & Conduct:

If you are able to foresee yourself needing an appointment at the Writing Center, make your best effort to schedule an appointment online at the University of Richmond Writing Center Web site. The first hour of each Consultant's shift can be booked online. All other hours are walk-in, just stop by Boatwright 180.

In order to maximize the productivity of appointments that have been scheduled ahead of time, email the draft of your paper along with your assignment to the Consultant with whom you will conference. This will allow the Consultant to review your work, make comments on your paper, and let the focus of the conference be on discussing your work and how to improve it.

If you are unable to provide the tutor with a draft 48 hours before your conference, try to email a copy of your assignment, an outline of your ideas, or anything tangible that may help the Consultant plan ways to make your conference effective. If you visit during walk-in hours, bring your draft and a copy of your assignment with you.

The most effective consultations are those in which the Consultant and the student are both comfortable and willing to communicate with one other. If you have time, try to think about what you wish to gain from the conference and tell the Consultant before you begin conferencing. If you are unable to think of topics you want help on prior to your conference, try to listen to what the Consultant says in his or her commentary about your paper and do your best to communicate with the Consultant during the conference.

Expect to work hand in hand with the Writing Consultant during a conference. The Consultant will have made comments on the student’s draft if given the chance to view the piece prior to the conference. During the conference, the tutor may wish to have the student take charge of his or her own draft by marking the paper with ideas and revisions that come up in discussion during the conference.

How to Apply Writing Center Commentary:

If you have provided a Consultant sufficient time to comment on your draft, your paper will be marked with suggestions and comments by the time you appear for your writing conference. It is important to remember that these comments and suggestions are completely up to the writer to work on or to disregard.

Writing Consultants are students, not professors; the advice and comments they give are simply suggestions, not guaranteed ways to make write a perfect paper. However, the Consultants have been trained thoroughly on how to write commentary, and are skilled writers themselves. Comments should enable students to dig deeper into their own ideas in hopes of improving not only their draft, but also their writing ability. Writers are encouraged to reflect on the commentary and advice received in a conference and revise their paper if they gain insight or new ideas.

Conferencing more than once on one piece of writing is also an effective way to make improvements. After revising their paper following an initial conference, students may want to return to the Writing Center to get additional feedback on their improved draft.

The Writing Center is a valuable service and tool that students can utilize for free, so take advantage of it!

Work Cited: North, Stephen. "The Idea of a Writing Center." The St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. Eds. Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood. 2nd Ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003: 31-46.

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