An Interview with Writing Consultants

student taking notes in front of her laptopDo you have a paper to finish for your History class? What about a lab report for Chemistry? Maybe you’re sprucing up your resume and cover letter for an exciting new job opportunity. Whatever the writing task, if you’re a student at UBC, the Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication can help you out—and at no extra cost to you.

At the CWSC, our Writing Consultants, all of whom are upper-level undergraduate or graduate students, are trained to help you improve your written work as well as your understanding of how to write well at university. You can book 30 minute appointments online through the CWSC website, and find us in the Writing Pavilion on the third floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

I recently sat down with four of our consultants—Alice, Carla, Kevin, and Shanleigh—to ask them a few questions about Writing Consultations and the writing process.

Why should students come to the CWSC? What should they bring?

Carla: At the CWSC, we don’t just proofread for grammar mistakes, so be prepared to have a discussion about your purpose for writing and the strategies you are using to get your ideas across. It’s okay if you’re confused about what those strategies are, though—that’s what we’re here for! Come with an open mind, and bring a draft of your work—it doesn’t have to be finished—as well as any assignment materials your instructor gave you, such as a handout and/or rubric.

Kevin: When you come to the CWSC, you won’t just get quick tips and tricks for “fixing” your assignment; you will learn how to improve your writing long-term. Our belief is that the insights you’ll gain by improving one piece of writing can be applied to make you a more effective writer for the rest of your life.

Shanleigh: At the CWSC, we can offer a fresh perspective on your work. We’re also an ideal place to begin to overcome a fear of writing, because we emphasize positive strategies you can utilize to do your best work, instead of focusing on what you’re doing “wrong.”

Alice: When I was an undergrad, I went to my school’s Writing Centre expecting help with grammar, spelling, and syntax. I wanted proofreading. Instead, I was offered in-depth feedback on my ideas, the strengths and weaknesses of my argument, and my logical structure. This wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what I needed. Over time, I learned to have faith in others—to trust people who weren’t in my discipline, but who understood the writing process, to be able to help me improve. To grow as a learner, you need to be generous about who can positively impact your work. Coming to the CWSC can help you to learn to do that.

What advice do you often find yourself giving during Writing Consultations?

'I am a writer' written on paper

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Carla: Many students that come to us are nervous about writing because they are English Language Learners. A big part of what I do as a Writing Consultant is give them the confidence to trust their own ideas and their own ability to express themselves clearly.

Alice: I encourage students to really think of themselves as writers, even if it feels funny at first. I ask them to think of their assignment or writing task as a story they are trying to tell, rather than just a set of boxes they need to check to get a mark. Empowering them to take greater ownership of the story changes the dynamic of the writing process.

Shanleigh: Don’t be afraid of speaking your mind. You have a right to contribute to the academic discussion, even if you aren’t an expert in your field—even if you’re only taking a class as an elective. When it comes to writing, being confident and being clear are often the same thing.

Kevin: Being able to identify your goals and formulate a plan for how you will achieve them is a skill that can transfer from learning how to write to the rest of your life. It’s about communicating well. Never forget that writing is something you do in conversation with others. If you ask yourself basic questions like, “Who is my audience?” “What do they expect?” And “How can I persuade them?” you’ll be on your way to making writing work for you.

Beyond coming for consultations, how can students set themselves up for success as academic writers?

Kevin: Before you start, read examples of the writing task you’re trying to do to familiarize yourself with how it’s supposed to work. Don’t just practice writing, also reflect on the process. When you read something, ask yourself whether or not it’s effective, and why. Apply a similar questioning process to your own work, especially when you get constructive feedback from TAs or instructors.

Alice: I didn’t succeed as an academic writer until I let go of the false impression I had of myself as a “bad” writer. A lot of people who struggle in English class in high school, for example, leave with the idea that they will never be able to write well. That just isn’t true. Find your niche—the subjects that you are passionate about—and you will be surprised at how much you can articulate through writing.

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