I hope to answer many of your faculty and instructional questions here. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me at the Writing Center at 315.268-4439 or via email: csajna@clarkson.edu

Thank You!

Catherine Sajna, Director|Instructor

Q: Can I require that a student attend the Writing Center?

A: Yes, you may! You can make Writing Center conferences a course requirement for individual students who would benefit from one-on-one help. Some professors require all of their students to attend the Writing Center for one of their many course assignments throughout the semester. We do not however, have sufficient staff for you to require all your students to come for all of their papers. Please contact Catherine Sajna (at 315-268–4439 or wcenter@clarkson.edu) to let her know of your requirement and perhaps to strategize the timing or assignment content information to maximize usefulness.

Q: Can I inquire as to whether or not a student has attended the Writing Center for a particular assignment?

A: We want to take the stigma away from “getting help” by encouraging both our remedial and exceptional writers to use our services. As such, we want the onus to be on the student for disclosing use of our Writing Center services with his or her faculty member(s). So, if you require a student to attend one or several sessions, this should be stipulated as part of your syllabus, and as such, the student is then agreeing to disclosure as part of this agreement. If a student is required to participate, we send a follow-up session report to the student, who can then print it out and attach it to the assignment, or email it to the instructor to verify participation (please stipulate your preference to students). Student writers who come voluntarily may also forward their session reports to the professor if requested; however, we will not disclose a student’s voluntary participation in our services without his or her consent. There may be special cases when we do not follow this procedure; however, this is our general best practice.

Q: My student’s paper was abysmal, yet he/she said they visited the Writing Center for help. Why is this paper not exceptional? Why are your consultants not capable of helping these writers produce B- or A-level work?

We ask that you give our Writing Consultants the benefit of the doubt. Ask the student to show you the consultant’s notes on the session.

There are several possible reasons:

  • The student didn’t use some or all of the advice they got from the consultant. This often occurs if extensive revision is recommended or if the student hasn’t allowed enough time before the assignment is due.
  • The student’s problems can’t be ‘fixed’ in a single session. We are finding that more and more students are not prepared to tackle college-level writing.
  • The writing consultant is not able to judge whether the content of the paper has addressed the quality and cope of your assignment.
  • The writing consultant may be unfamiliar with your discipline and its requirements.

In our experience, we are seeing a decreasing trend among the majority of entering college students in terms of college-ready writing. Many are simply not prepared to tackle college-level writing assignments. We do not attempt to suggest we understand all of the factors that are contributing to this trend. However, we do see our Writing Center as an important resource for students and faculty if we work in partnership to help foster improved student writing and hopefully make strides in closing this gap.

Understanding possible scenarios underscoring a less-than-ideal paper submittal, even with Writing Center help, is essential to a productive partnership to that end. Some of these scenarios include the following:

  • A student may come to the Writing Center with under-developed critical thinking and reading comprehension skills. We assume students are capable of tackling the assigned content materials or prompt because students a decade ago were; this is not necessarily the case. So, your student may come to the Writing Center with an inability to articulate comprehension of what they have read (you have no idea how many come here saying “I didn’t really read it at all, but it is due tomorrow!”). So, the paper you are receiving may be void of a strong thesis, not because our consultants weren’t helpful or “good” consultants, but simply because they did their best working with a student who had no idea what they had read (or didn’t read!), let alone what they wanted to say about it. Moral of this story: If you haven’t seen the original paper (or the fact there was no paper to start), please don’t presume the poor quality of work is because of the Writing Center. In other words, what you are looking at, though not very good, may be 100-times better than what they came in with, even if it was D or F work. Our job is to work together to help that student improve his or her writing overall, not just for one assignment.
  • A student may come to the Writing Center and not take our advice. We see many students who come in with a half-hour left before the paper is due, with hardly much done on the assignment. Our consultants offer suggestions, but sometimes the student writer is so ill-prepared that once they leave the session, they aren’t really sure how to integrate the advice (or they have run out of time). They may have come in hoping for a miracle, or that we have read all of their assigned content and can help them develop their paper, when in fact, in a half-hour session, we may make a rushed sketch of a paper more organized or readable, while offering suggestions for improvement, and it fails to make it into the final product you see.
  • A student may have needed multiple appointments but didn’t manage his or her time or come in early enough. This scenario also relates to the prior two. Sometimes a student will come in at the last minute with a poorly-written draft and little recollection of what they read. They may have other priorities that relegated their writing assignments to the bottom of their to-do list. If in a half-hour we can only help them make cohesive sentences or make the paper readable, their lack of development, thesis, or address of the prompt is really not due to the quality of our Writing Center sessions. We often write in our session notes, which are sent to our writers after their sessions, “Wish we had more time; writer could have used additional sessions.” If you don’t see these notes, you are relying on the perception of the student writer only. If they say, “Well, I visited the Writing Center, ” please presume there may be more to this than what is being conveyed to you, not out of an intent to be dishonest, but rather simply a disconnect in the process.

Q: Can the Writing Center assist a graduate student with a thesis or dissertation?

A: In recent years, we have redefined our mission to provide service to undergraduate students first and foremost; however, we will work with graduate students if our time and resources permit. We no longer accept a thesis or dissertation for cover-to-cover editing work, as this is contrary to our model and mission to help students improve their writing. We will work with students on 4-5 pages of a large document in the same fashion we do with our undergraduate students. Our undergraduates will take priority; however, we want to encourage solid writing skills for all members of the Clarkson community.

Q: How can I help students to produce better written projects?

A: We strongly recommend using models and a process approach to writing assignments during which students will get your feedback at several stages. We also strongly recommend that you conference with students.

  • Models
    • Include your learning goals for the project, your standards for the project’s organization, level of evidence or development, style, and the citation format for your discipline.
    • Provide examples of effective writing in your discipline. Because students lack experience in the discipline, models can clarify your discipline’s standards.
    • Remind students to use terminology and the concepts you are covering. Students may not feel confident about the concepts and like imposters using the terminology.
  • The Process Approach
    • Give students your feedback on their early drafts, so they understand your expectations. Grade only the final draft.
    • Require brief progress reports from students to get them started early on projects. This is an ideal practice for large papers, with interval submissions of topic, annotated bibliography, and even practice on citations due before the rough draft. This incremental reporting will also give students practice with the memo format at the same time.
    • Encourage students to visit the Writing Center and work with a writing consultant.

Q: My students don’t know when or how to cite their sources. How can the Writing Center help?

A: Your students can visit the Writing Center and work with a consultant. However, you might first direct them to the information on citing sources on this site, HERE.

Q: Will Writing Center consultants help my students with their PowerPoint presentations?

A: Yes. There are also resources on this website HERE, including links, for public speaking and presentation best practices.

Really, what we ask is that faculty perhaps give our Writing Consultants the benefit of the doubt in knowing that the paper you are reviewing now may indeed have been much improved from what was brought initially, even if it isn’t really very good. With that presumption, please let us know how we can work with you to better prepare your students to improve their writing skills and written products. We want to work with you in partnership!

Q: Can you come to the classroom and discuss with my students the importance of Citation Formats or other critical writing topics?

A: Yes, and thank you for the invitation! We will design with advance notice special presentations in classrooms on a topic in which you would like your students to garner additional help or instruction. We also invite you to bring your class into the Writing Center. While there isn’t much to see here, it is important that the students know where to find us and feel a little bit familiar with the service, especially our scheduling method. Our goal is to provide services to not only struggling writers, but exceptional writers as well!