Ask a Professor: What Is a University Writing Center and Should You Use It?

Colleges run writing centers to help students improve their written communication skills. A college professor looks at the benefits of the writing center.
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
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An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D., has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a writer and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern...
Published on April 12, 2022
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Hannah Muniz
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Editor & Writer

Hannah Muniz is a senior editor with BestColleges, specializing in college planning, test prep, student life, and sponsored content. She previously worked as a freelance writer, composing articles on the SAT/ACT, higher education, language learning, ...
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  • The university writing center gives students feedback on their papers.
  • Trained writing coaches staff the writing center and meet with students for free.
  • Using the writing center can strengthen your writing skills and boost your grades.

As a history professor, I assigned a lot of papers. That's because strong writing skills pay off.

Many employers strongly prioritize writing skills when hiring. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' 2020 Job Outlook survey, 77.5% of employers look for job candidates with strong written communication skills.

And the university writing center is one of the best places to improve your writing.

Every semester, I had students who struggled with writing. And every semester, I sent students to the writing center. But what is the writing center? And should you use it?

What Is a Writing Center in College?

A writing center is a free student service on campus that provides feedback and support for writers. Anyone can visit the writing center, such as first-year students tackling English 101 and faculty working on grant proposals.

Typically, the writing center staff includes undergraduate and graduate writing coaches, or writing consultants, along with faculty and staff who specialize in writing. The writing coaches typically must complete training that covers writing and strategies for various types of academic writing.

At the writing center, students work closely with coaches on every part of the writing process. Writing consultants help students start a research paper, develop their arguments, and present their examples more effectively. They also recommend revision and editing strategies.

Students can make an appointment to discuss a paper or drop in for feedback. Larger schools may even offer specialized writing centers for different departments.

5 Key Ways Writing Centers Help Students

Writing centers can help students improve their written communication skills — and they can also boost their grades. Here are some of the many ways writing centers help students.

1. You'll Steadily Master the Basics of Writing

Are you struggling to communicate your ideas clearly in a paper? Visiting your college's writing center can help with that. During a session, you can sit down with a writing consultant and work through a draft line by line to improve clarity and overall readability.

College writing centers train students every day on how to write different types of papers. And they can also help you identify and correct grammar errors and typos.

Keep in mind, however, that writing consultants are there to assist you, not do the work for you. If you show up asking someone to proofread and correct your paper, they'll more than likely gently turn you down.

2. You Can Start Your Paper on the Right Foot

What if you don't even have a draft? What if you can't figure out how to start your assignment? Your campus writing center can help you formulate a plan to write your paper.

Writing coaches can talk you through the assignment and the steps you must take to complete it. During your session, you can craft a writing plan to ensure you turn in your paper on time.

Your writing coach can also recommend strategies for building an outline, identifying sources, and developing a strong argument.

3. You'll Strengthen Your Argument

As writing consultants know, faculty assign all kinds of papers in college. But whether you're formulating a descriptive, analytical, persuasive, or critical essay, you'll need a thesis statement. And the writing center can help strengthen your argument.

Bring a draft of your paper to the writing center for feedback on improving your thesis statement. Or bring your notes and talk through the argument. Spending time on your thesis will pay off in your paper grade.

4. You'll Understand How to Use Sources More Effectively

Whether you're writing a book analysis, a persuasive research paper, or a lab report, you'll need to use sources in your paper. Writing coaches can help you strengthen your examples and connect your evidence to your main argument.

Should you paraphrase the source or use a direct quote? Writing consultants learn how different disciplines present evidence so that your paper meets your professor's expectations.

5. You'll Learn Revision Strategies

Revising is the easiest strategy you can use to improve your grade. However, many students turn in their first drafts. If you want to improve your editing and revision strategies, visit your campus writing center.

During revisions, you'll find sentence fragments, incomplete paragraphs, and empty footnotes that can hurt your grade. Writing coaches will walk you through the editing process while recommending approaches you can use for future papers.

Should You Visit the Writing Center?

In my own experience, the writing center made a major difference in my students' papers. Undergrads came back from the writing center with more focused, clearer, and more persuasive essays. But should you use the writing center?

I recommend all students visit their school's writing center whether they're an international student who wants feedback on their English writing or a graduate student trying to formulate a master's thesis. Whatever your current writing level, there's always room for improvement.

Don't forget — the writing center is free. And the skills you pick up from what you learn there will pay off long after graduation.

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