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The Writing Center: coaching cohesion, coherence, and confidence

By Zach Cihlar

Section: Features

September 29, 2017

Nestled in the back of the Goldfarb Mezzanine, the Writing Center is a hub of creativity and passion for the written word. Its primary goal is to mold confident writers with the ability to craft “cohesive and coherent” arguments in a way that is catered to the specific writer, said one of the Writing Center’s directors Brenden O’Donnell.

The free service is open to both undergraduate and graduate students, and the Writing Center will provide help to writers in any stage of their writing process from brainstorming to final drafts. “Our focus pedagogically is to help produce better writers, not necessarily just better projects,” O’Donnell elaborated. In that way, the Writing Center approaches its consultations in a holistic manner, building and improving long-term skills in writing.

“The idea behind the writing process is much more important to producing a better paper,” co-director David Pass said. Writing Center consultants approach a student’s project at the macro level, rather than focusing time and energy on grammar and proofreading. The center offers grammar sessions separately, but general sessions with consultants focus on the writer’s approach to formulating the paper. In this way, students can experience their writing from different perspectives, according to the Writing Center directors.

When a student brings a project into the Writing Center, they can expect consultants to focus on what the Writing Center calls “the entire rhetorical context of the project,” O’Donnell said. The “rhetorical context” O’Donnell mentions refers to a coherent structure, the strength of the argument, and adherence to the guidelines of the assignment, the director interpreted.

O’Donnell and Pass also noted a misunderstanding that students frequently associate with the Writing Center. In many cases, a student’s use of the center might be seen as an indication of remedial writing abilities or a lack of skills in the process. However, the directors sought to dispel that misunderstanding, explaining that both experienced and inexperienced writers frequently seek the center’s services.

To confront this misconception, the directors and consultants often find themselves instructing students and faculty on their purposes and goals, so everyone can properly understand what to expect from a session.

Students seeking a tutoring session in the Writing Center can book appointments through a Google Calendar on the center’s website, under the tab that reads “Make a Reservation.” The calendar lists the consultants available in timeslots throughout the week. In total, there are 24 consultants offering either 45-minute tutoring sessions or 30-minute grammar sessions.

Filled to the brim with experience in the art of writing the essay, the office caters to students’ individual disciplines, offering a variety of consultants doing graduate study in different Brandeis departments. There are 11 departments represented in total with consultants studying a range of topics from Ancient Greek and Roman Studies to Non-Profit Management in the Business School.

O’Donnell and Pass have both had experience as consultants prior to their directorships of the Writing Center. Even in their undergraduate study, they worked as peer consultants, making use of English majors to advise other undergraduate students in university writing.

For O’Donnell and Pass, their work with the Writing Center has developed alongside their Ph.D. studies in the English department. They described their work with the Writing Center in a way that it fueled their study of English and their own development as writers.

Pass described the Writing Center as an environment where undergraduates, graduates and instructors can build a positive relationship with their writing and leave with a sense of connection with the Writing Center and its community. “The environment is good at cultivating a sense of writerliness,” Pass said in summary, hinting at the center’s hope that its students find identity in and affinity with their writing.

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