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How Peer Tutors Can Help Your Students with Writing Assignments

  • Writing Center peer tutors help students become more confident and effective writers. They do this through one-to-one dialogue, asking questions that good writers ask themselves as they draft and revise:

    • What is the assignment asking me to do? What is the purpose of the assignment?
    • Who is the audience? What expectations does the reader(s) have for my writing?
    • What ideas do I want to convey?
    • Do I have information and sources to draw from? Are they adequate for what this assignment? How will I organize my thoughts and get things started?

    These questions are typical of the ones tutors discuss with students.

    Sometimes students who have never worked with a tutor might think precious time is wasted by the questions tutors ask: If I knew the answers to these questions, I wouldn’t be here—please, just fix my mistakes!

    What all writers eventually learn, however, is that questions from a thoughtful and caring reader do more to help writers express ideas clearly than a pen that spills red ink on their papers.

    How do tutors help students?

    When students visit the Writing Center, they can expect their tutor will read and respond to them in a thoughtful and respectful manner, offer constructive advice, and help them decide the next steps they need to take to complete the assignment.

    In general, tutors start with higher-order concerns like thesis, organization, and use of supporting details. Then they move to sentence-level concerns like grammar, mechanics, and usage. Tutoring sessions last 30 to 45 minutes; students usually have more work to do on their papers before handing them in.

    The Writing Center staff is comprised of paid undergraduate and graduate peer tutors, as well as community volunteers, including retired professors emeriti. Tutors are selected carefully and receive regular training and supervision. Their job is to help students become more independent, self-sufficient writers. 

    Do tutors proofread papers?

    When students say they want someone to edit or proofread their papers, they may be asking the tutor to find and correct errors in grammar and punctuation, but often they are more interested in receiving feedback on the organization and clarity of their ideas. Requests for proofreading are understandable (even the best writers have editors), but such requests may be premature for early drafts or when a paper is disorganized or unclear. Tutors try to help students see that correcting errors will not benefit a writer whose paper does not meet the assignment, contains a vague or confusing thesis, or lacks good information.

    How can I help my students use the Writing Center most effectively?

    Encourage your students to use us—early and often. A good way to get students to take the first step is to bring your class here for one of our many workshops.

    In addition, instructors can encourage students to consult with tutors about specific aspects of their writing. For example, in your assignment sheet or syllabus, you can build in time for students to visit the Writing Center and suggest what they might work on when they meet their tutor.

    Where is the Writing Center?

    The Writing Center’s main campus location is 218 Eicher Hall. Eicher is located on Grant Street between Wallwork Hall and the smokestacks. Learn more about the Writing Center in Eicher Hall.

    The Writing Center’s Library Satellite is located on the first floor of Stapleton Library in the green booths behind the Reference Desk. Learn more about the Writing Center - Library Satellite.

    Students can get help with papers online from a Writing Center tutor. Using the Online Writing Center means no downloads, no user account, no special training, and no hassles. Learn more about the Online Writing Center.

    To contact the Writing Center, please call 724-357-3029 or email w-center@iup.edu. 

    By Dr. Ben Rafoth, Writing Center Director