Tutoring Writing

Writing tutors are an amazing resource for anyone looking to develop certain aspects of their writing. Many students see tutoring services as only being suitable for novice writers, but even experienced, confident writers use these services to improve their written work. Whether it is their basic grammar or the logical development of their writing that students wish to work on, writing tutors can help.

In this podcast, we hear from the Program Leader of UBC’s Writing Centre, as well as one of the tutors, who works with students on a day-to-day basis. They discuss how students can book and prepare for sessions, what they can expect to get from them, and why everyone should consider working with a writing tutor.

We have created a complementary resource that may prove useful to instructors wishing to encourage students to seek tutoring help. This resource is available to download once you have contacted a site administrator here. Once you have provided your details (including a verifiable academic institution email address) you will receive a password that will enable you to download it.

Encouraging Students to Seek Tutoring Help

Many students think tutoring for writing is only meant for those with major deficiencies in their writing, or for those who are transitioning into a non-native language. In reality, tutoring is suitable for almost all students, including those who are strong writers. Writing centres and writing tutors work with postgraduate, undergraduate, domestic and international students who wish to improve specific elements of their writing.

A particularly good time to remind students that they can access writing tutoring is when you set new assignments or grade old ones. Students are often aware of elements of their writing that they can improve on, but there is nothing like a new challenge or the assessment of an old one to spur them on to address these issues.

At UBC, students are able to register and book appointments at the Writing Centre online, up to three weeks in advance. They can book up to one hour per week. Most other universities have their own writing centres and/or specialist support services.

Preparing Students for Tutoring Sessions

Although the onus is firmly on the student to prepare for a tutoring session, you can help them do this effectively by providing feedback on areas of their writing that could be improved. Additionally, tutoring sessions are most effective when students target one or two areas, so encourage students to look over old writing assignments to try to build a picture of where their weaker areas lie.

Remind students that tutors will not proofread or edit their work, nor will they check over homework. They will help students become better writers by challenging them to think about how best to present their topics and by focusing on the writing process.

You should mention to students that generalist writing tutors will help them assess how well they develop pieces of writing (e.g. the logic of their arguments, the organisation of their writing). They will also help with general writing skills, such as grammar and the use of mechanics. Specialist science writing tutors will instead focus more on discipline-specific requirements, such as how to integrate sources (which is very different from the way non-scientists do this). They will also be able to help students identify different niche requirements for science writing. Whether students book tutoring time with generalist or specialist tutors depends on the goals they have for developing as writers.

Working with Students to Support Tutoring Sessions

Before students attend their first tutoring session, encourage them to:

  1. Gather examples of their writing (after it has been graded, and when it incorporates feedback if possible) that showcases the specific areas that they wish to work on.
  2. Speak to you (as their instructor) or to a TA to clarify any feedback and issues that may be present with their writing, so that they are clear on what they wish to develop (and why) before attending a session.
  3. Reflect on their writing process so that they are better able to explain any difficulties they have (e.g. do they struggle to develop a writing outline before starting to write, do they find it difficult to create an effective thesis, or do they need help to design a better editing method?)

After students have attended their first tutoring session, encourage them to:

  1. Write a brief summary of their session and share this with you as something of a battle plan. This will help you keep an eye out for specific elements of their writing that they are working on, so that you may give even more tailored feedback in future assignments. It will also create a form of accountability, which will encourage students to work on what they have agreed with their tutor(s).
  2. Book a follow-up session with their tutor(s) for the same reason. Adding extra motivation and accountability to the process will help students to continue developing their writing skills.
  • If requested, provide students with examples of other work that is particularly strong in the areas that they are trying to improve, so that they can view examples while honing their skills. This need not be from the same class if you are worried about confidentiality or plagiarism issues.