Frequently Asked Questions

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What does the writing center do? 

The Ott Memorial Writing Center offers a variety of services including

What happens in an appointment? 

First-time visitors often schedule a 30- or 60-minute appointment and arrive not really knowing what to expect. In all of our locations, you can expect to be greeted warmly by our reception staff and tutors. Most appointments begin with the tutor asking about the assignment: What's the task? How long is the project? When is it due? Where are you in the process of finishing the assignment?

You can also expect your tutor to ask you about your priorities: What do you most want to focus on during the conference? (Common areas of focus include brainstorming, refining a thesis statement, revising organization, presenting and analyzing evidence, developing transitions, crafting effective introductions and conclusions, documenting sources, and fine-tuning grammar and style.)

If you've got a draft, your tutor will probably ask you to read through it out loud. (If reading aloud makes you uncomfortable, let your tutor know and he or she can read it aloud instead.) Reading the draft aloud allows both writer and tutor to get familiar with the ideas and the language in the draft.

After that, the conversation will focus on the priorities you and the tutor set together. Our tutors will respect you and trust your writing decisions, which means that we will not tell you what to do with your work, but will instead help you to think critically about your work and your writing processes. Being an author is about making choices: as tutors, we aim to help you see a wider range of choices and weigh the pros and cons of those options.

Should I make my appointment for 30 or 60 minutes? 

If you're in the early brainstorming stages or have a paper shorter than 5 pages, we recommend a 30-minute appointment. If you have a longer paper, are working on particularly complex material that will require considerable explanation, or are someone who knows you like to have plenty of time to discuss ideas for revision or generate new text, a 60-minute appointment may be right for you. If you have questions, give a member of our reception staff a call (414-288-5542). We're happy to help.

I want an appointment but your schedule is full. What can I do? 

 We apologize. Sometimes we have more requests for appointments than we have tutors available. During some weeks, conferences can get booked up to a week an advance. We're truly sorry for that inconvenience. Here are three suggestions for getting time with a tutor when appointments are scarce.

  • Add your name to our wait list. You can either ask a receptionist to do this for you or log on to WCOnline, then look for the icon of a small clock to the left of the date(s) you're interested in. Click the clock icon and fill in your information. You can add yourself to the wait list on as many days as you wish. Please note: the wait list does NOT guarantee an appointment or even keep track of requests in order. If a writer cancels an appointment, everyone on the wait list will be notified. The first person to respond, by calling or going online, can claim that appointment.

  • If you're in the Raynor Memorial Library, drop by on the hour or half hour. Sometimes writers don't show up, and if that happens we're happy to take a walk-in appointment.

I am working on a big project. Can I get an appointment that's longer than 60 minutes? 

We don’t schedule appointments for longer than 60 minutes, but we do have suggestions for working on longer projects. If you're working on a longer paper, we encourage you to make a series of appointments--ideally with the same tutor. Many writers come for 30 or 60 minutes at the same time every week (or every other week) to work with the same tutor. Scheduling this kind of “regular” appointment allows you to work on various sections of your draft (or look at a revision of an earlier version) with someone who already knows your project and your writing strengths and concerns.   In addition to the advantage of getting to know each other well and not having to re-explain your project and concerns each week, being a "regular" gives you the privilege of asking for a "reading hour" when necessary--time for your tutor to read a longer or more complex draft in advance.

What is a "reading hour" and how can I get one? 

A “reading hour” allows your tutor to read some of your draft ahead of time. This is particularly helpful if you’re working on a long or particularly complex project.  Reading hours are available for writers who are working on a regular basis with the same tutor.  If you’re interested in becoming a “regular” with reading hour privileges, talk with a tutor or a member of our reception staff.

I just need my paper proofread before I hand it in. Can you do that? 

Although we can certainly assist writers with questions about grammar and style, we cannot copyedit papers; we aim to engage writers in conversations and practice that will help them learn from our assistance and apply that knowledge to their own patterns of error.

I'm in a STEM discipline / I'm writing on a very advanced subject: Can a tutor really help me write about such a technical material? 

Yes, and here's why. Although we can never promise to be an expert in your subject area, we can promise to be an enthusiastic reader with rich knowledge of common genres of writing and the processes of writing. Our tutors spend time reading and analyzing many different examples of genres common across the disciplines, including lit reviews, research / grant proposals, research posters, and personal statements / statements of teaching philosophy. Because they are familiar with the genre expectations (and the common challenges for writers composing these genres), our tutors often begin with ideas of what your writing needs to accomplish rhetorically--no matter how advanced or technical your subject matter may be. Additionally, one of the biggest challenges for writers is to explain their complex research to a less knowledgeable audience; our tutors can respond as less-knowledgeable-but-articulate readers, pointing out places where a draft takes for granted background information or terminology that may need to be explained or defined.

I'm working on a group project. Can the writing center help me (and my group!) with group paper? 

Yes, we can help at various stages of your project. Whenever possible, we encourage multiple group members to attend the appointment, but we can also meet with individual writers representing a larger group. We can help the group talk about strategies for collaboration (Do you plan to divide and conquer? Do you plan to talk together then write individually? Do you plan to all write together in the same room?), we can help integrate sections written separately, we can help group members negotiate differences of opinion, and more. If you have questions, give us a call or stop by.

Can an undergraduate student tutor really help a graduate with an advanced project? Isn't that awkward? 

Yes, our undergraduate tutors can help--and no, it doesn't have to be awkward. Here's why. At the writing center, we understand that all writers--no matter how advanced--benefit from conversation with interested, experienced readers. Our tutors can never replace your professors or committee members--we're not here to tell you exactly how to fix your paper--but we can offer something that some instructors aren't able to: experience coaching people through the writing process and the time to offer encouragement on a regular basis. We can offer familiarity with many common academic genres (explained above), experience with undertaking major revision, enthusiasm for fine-tuning the clarity and grace of a paper, and your own personal cheerleading service. Many graduate students find that making an appointment every week (or every other week) at the same time, with the same tutor, offers them a terrific, low-stakes accountability mechanism that can help keep a long-term project moving forward. (If you're interested, ask a tutor or reception staff member about setting up a "regular" appointment.)