As seen in The Miami Student: Editorial Section
“Let’s talk about writing” is the worst sentence ever. Upon hearing it, eyes glaze over, mouths fall open and ears tune out. Writing is uninteresting for many Miami students, and after getting their papers red-penned and ripped apart, it is also incredibly frustrating. Where might they find help?
Hundreds of students turn to the Howe Writing Center (HWC), based out of King Library, but for the wrong reasons.
“Many writers come to the writing center thinking that a consultant will just edit their paper,” says Kate Ronald, director of the HWC and head instructor of English 359, a class in which applicants are trained to be future consultants.
The problem with this idea is that it is based out of the notion that HWC consultants are editors. They are not. Consultants at the HWC are just that – consultants.
They meet with students to discuss and develop ideas for their papers, assist with structure and organization, help clarify the assignment, explain confusions, and make writers more comfortable with what they are trying to say. Where professors are editors, consultants are peers. They work on the same level as the writers, and not just for one-time gain.
“We’re here to make better writers, not better papers,” says Ronald.
That’s not to say that a student’s paper won’t benefit exponentially from a visit to the HWC. Every consultation is a conversation, typically lasting 45 minutes or less, at the end of which writers may walk away with knowledge on how they might shape their as-yet unwritten paper, create or whittle down their thesis, connect their points back to their main ideas, make their writing more readable, and even address grammar-level concerns.
Unlike editing, HWC consultations are discourse-based, and there is no specific formula that consultants follow. Each individual consultation is catered towards the writer’s specific needs and worries.
“It’s all case-by-case,” says Kate Francis, manager of the HWC and assistant instructor of English 359.
Usually, a session will begin with an explanation of the writing center, and a discussion about the writer’s concerns with their paper. The consultant typically asks the writer to read their paper out loud to them, a practice that may seem daunting to some writers but is actually extremely beneficial.
“It allows the writer to pick up on mistakes that they may not have noticed otherwise,” says Ronald.
It also gives the consultant an opportunity to listen and take notesThe session will continue on with teamwork between the writer and the consultant, touching on problem spots with clarification and questions.
Lots of questions – within one 45 minute session, it is not unusual for a consultant to ask over 50. It is this aspect of consultations that seem to catch many students off-guard. The HWC has dealt with a few bad reviews because of the expectation that a consultation is one-sided, like that of an editing session. A consultation, however, is an exploration; it is a search for what the writer is truly trying to get across, and that search is pioneered by teamwork and question-asking.
Notice, too, that Ronald uses the term “writer” in place of “student.” This is because of the idea in the HWC that what makes a person a writer is not their deftness with language or their love of the art. It’s just that writers write. Students come into the Center with the idea that they do not know how to write, only to discover that they simply were getting stuck on something within their paper. A consultation is almost personal – the goal is to get the writer to feel confident in their writing.
As final papers and projects loom in the distant future, the HWC offers itself as a tool to make getting through the semester a less disheartening task.
Need help with a paper, or just need to bounce ideas around? Secure a consultation on their website and see what all the hype is about.
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