Writing Center offers tutoring, advice

Students puzzling over how best to put words on paper can get free one-on-one feedback by appointment at the Writing Center, located in Cramer Hall, Room 188F.

Carol Burnell, Writing Center coordinator, said, “If it’s close to midterms or finals, you’d better sign up for an appointment a week ahead of time.” The number is 503-725-3570 and appointments are for 25 minutes.

Because of constant pressure on available times, appointments are limited to three per week per individual.

Consultants do not revise the work, and manuscripts may not be left at the center for evaluation. The format requires a one-on-one consultation.

“We don’t just let people drop off their work,” Burnell said. “The goal is to learn something.”

Burnell said many people have writing problems, and the center is prepared to address almost all of them.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of understanding the assignment,” she said. “Sometimes it’s getting started, sometimes it’s organization.”

Anyone can use the center, undergraduate, grad student, faculty member, even the general public. The consultation on any given day may involve any writing project, such as class papers, personal documents, creative writing, articles, technical reports, resumes, applications for scholarships or grants, even graduate theses or dissertations.

Frequently, the day starts with the schedule completely full. However, Burnell advises those in dire need to keep calling the center. Every day there are no-shows and cancellations. Cliff Barnett, the long-time specialist who controls the appointment board, will wait five minutes for an applicant to show up, then the slot goes to someone waiting for an appointment.

A person who no-shows two times can be terminally cut off from making reservations, although Barnett tries to work with such people to eliminate the difficulty.

The center is open to everyone, but less than 1 percent of users are not connected to the university. Users do not need to show ID, although the center keeps user statistics so Burnell knows what kind of students the center is serving.

About 60 percent of the sessions are taken by non-native speakers, she says.

“We also have lots of native-born or immigrant students whose first language is not English,” Burnell says.

Judith Wild, a specialist in English as a second language, spends about six hours a week working with consultants and helping with training workshops.

Besides Burnell and Barnett, the center is staffed mostly with English department graduate students, along with an occasional adjunct professor and one or two work-study students. There also may be from one to four volunteers who have taken or are taking a class in teaching and tutoring writing given once a year.

Center equipment includes four computer terminals reserved for work with consultants and is not available for general use.

Consultants keep their skills polished with a two-hour workshop every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon, at which time the center is closed for consultation.

The center provides a number of aids other than personal consultation. A filing cabinet contains a variety of free handouts on writing techniques. A library of reference books includes the MLA and APA style manuals. These may be consulted without an appointment. Some of the handouts are available online, including the MLA and APA documentation guidelines.

The center is a member of the National Grammar Hotline and frequently gets calls from the East Coast. These come from writers whose own local access to the hot line has closed for the day.

The center performs other services besides in-house activities, such as in-class presentations by request. These address such topics as how to use the Writing Center, how to give peer responses and proper use of sources to avoid plagiarism. There is also a one-credit course, writing 199 practicum, available only to Freshman Inquiry students. Students come into the Writing Center and set up a weekly one-hour appointment with the same consultant each week. The center has a handout explaining the course requirements.

Hours the center remains open vary somewhat term by term. Every term there will be two days a week with extended hours. This term, the hours are Monday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Burnell, an Oregon native, holds a master’s in English from Portland State University. She served as a graduate assistant before leaving to teach in several community colleges as an adjunct professor. In spring 1999, she returned to PSU as coordinator of the Writing Center. She also teaches one class each term on various writing subjects. The Writing Center e-mail address is [email protected] The Web site is www.writingcenter.pdx.edu.