By Chad Houts
There are many myths about Western Michigan University’s Writing Center that Director Kim Ballard would like to dispel.
“What we’re doing is looking at helping a person clarify their ideas to an audience in whatever the context is,” Ballard said.
The Writing Center, which is moving from its current location in Moore Hall to Ellsworth Hall for the fall semester, helps clarify ideas by offering one-on-one, hour-long sessions between students and writing consultants.
But the consultants do not simply mark up a paper and show the student what needs to be done to make it right. The sessions go a little deeper than that, Ballard said.
“We begin with rhetorical issues and context first, and work our way down,” Ballard said. “Writing is a process. It’s getting your thinking clear on paper to an audience.”
Writing Center consultants not only help students convey their ideas in term papers, they also work with them on resumes, graduate essays, creative writing assignments and just about any kind of written document one could need help with, Ballard said.
Although there are other outlets on campus that offer similar services, Ballard said there is a distinct difference in the way the Writing Center tackles them.
“Everything we do, somebody else does, too,” Ballard said. “But what we do is individualize the approach, and we can do it because we have the luxury of an hour in which to work with students.”
WMU senior Tim Buchanan is a consultant at the Writing Center, and he said he sees a lot of technical papers and students who are looking for grammar corrections, but he would welcome more creative writing students to the table.
“In some ways I wonder if we’re properly advertised to creative writing students,” Buchanan said. “We will look at any piece of writing. We will work on everything, and on every level of writing, and at any point in the writing process.”
Seeing students progress and become better writers is something the Writing Center staff takes pride in, Buchanan, an admitted “English nerd,” said.
“I love working with writing – period,” Buchanan said. “The most gratifying times for me are when I can go deeper than just the grammar and look at the ideas.”
Graduate Director and Associate Professor of the English Department Todd Kuchta assigns his share of written work.
He teaches classes of 20 to 25 students in literary theory and interpretation, and courses in modern and British literature which often require students to complete two to three papers per semester, varying in length.
Kuchta said that, although he hasn’t listed the Writing Center as a resource on his syllabi in recent semesters, he plans to, and he always mentions the Writing Center to each new class.
“My tendency is usually to point students in the direction of the Writing Center if their writing displays grammar and style significantly below that expected for the course level,” Kuchta said.
“However, I realize I should probably make a habit of encouraging all students to visit the writing center regularly, since I think even the best student writers can benefit from the kind of attention the consultants provide.”
Kuchta said that having a Writing Center consultant might also help students with revision.
“I may be wrong about this,” Kuchta said, “but I also have the sense that not enough students revise their writing before submitting it, and I think the Writing Center can be invaluable in this regard.”
“The reality is that students are coming out of high school and other institutions startlingly unprepared for college writing,” said Edwin Martini, an associate chair and professor in WMU’s Department of History.
“I feel the Writing Center is an important component of providing academic support for students new to the university environment,” Martini continued.
Martini said that he finds the Writing Center most useful for his general education courses, where he typically assigns two to three papers in a semester.
“I make use of the Writing Center mostly in my large general education courses, particularly for students who need extra help with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing and organizing a paper,” Martini said.
As for any other myths about the Writing Center?
“Don’t believe them and come see for yourself,” Ballard said.