If you currently attend college and have yet to write a paper, be advised that one is coming your way. You’re delusional if you think your professors don’t plan on giving you any writing assignments. I promise you, one of them will. Nobody studying at the collegiate level is exempt from the art of writing; English, music publishing, criminal justice, chemistry, and accounting majors all need to be effective writers. Professors know this and plan written assignments accordingly.
Somebody else on your campus knows this too: the university writing center. I’ve been working in my university’s writing center for two semesters now, and it blows my mind how many students—and not just freshmen—don’t even realize we exist. Those who do know about us rarely take advantage of the services we offer. A university writing center is a phenomenal way to improve writing assignments and grow as a lifelong writer. If you’re skeptical about the idea of a writing center, take a minute to consider a few things your writing center staff probably wants you to know.
If you don’t think you can benefit from a trip to the writing center, think again. My university writing center sees a lot of freshmen taking their core English credits, along with international students who are just beginning to write in a new language, but we also work with graduate-level students and even help with Ph.D. work every now and then. Everybody writes, which means everyone can stand to improve their skills. How you learn to write in college determines how you write professionally. Your writing center staff wants you to be equipped for whatever future writing assignments come your way. If you’re a freshman who (somehow) graduated high school without writing a research paper, go to the writing center. If you’re a doctoral student preparing for a thesis defense, go to the writing center. The staff will be willing to work with you on any level, in any way they can.
The people in the writing center will probably not edit your paper. Every writing center policy is different, but in my experience, only two kinds of people work in writing centers: those who are passionate about writing or teaching and those who are passionate about both writing and teaching. Thus, when you go into a writing center, expect to be taught how to write.
I’m sure your local grammar Nazis could edit your paper beautifully, but they would rather teach you the rules of grammar, so that in the future you can catch mistakes on your own. The writing center could help fix your funky phrases and unclear sentence structure, but they would rather help you articulate your own thoughts in your own voice. We’ve established that writing is a forever skill, but the writing center is not a forever resource. You won’t be able to have your business proposals proofed before a meeting or your e-mails edited before you send them off to a client. For this reason, most writing centers will want to equip you with the ability to have effective writing all on your own.
The writing center is not the judgment seat of the writing gods. Most people are cautious when it comes to sharing things they’ve written out of fear of rejection or condemnation; even professional authors get nervous about launching a new book. It’s okay to be apprehensive about sharing your writing. But do it anyway. The nice people at your local writing center are not going to tear apart your essay word by word, mock your topic, and sentence your thesis to an academic inferno. Most likely they’re students too, and they know how much writer’s rejection hurts. That’s part of the reason their job exists. Writing centers are designed to encourage students, not belittle them. Don’t expect to be told that your writing has reached nirvana (because, sorry, it hasn’t), but don’t anticipate hostile feedback either. Enter the door of your university writing center with confidence that the only kind of criticism you will receive will be of the constructive kind.
If you’re still not convinced, that’s okay. I beg of you, don’t take my word for it. The best way to learn about your school’s writing center is to stop in for a visit. You will never know what the staff has to offer you unless you investigate for yourself. Ask questions, get information, and by all means bring in a paper! Regardless of which specific services your writing center provides for students, every experience is guaranteed to make you a better writer. And if you ask me, better writers make better people. It’s that important.