Writing a paper can be scary. Finding quality research can be daunting. For those of you who procrastinate, a due date can begin to haunt and horrify as you lie in bed late at night, wondering how you will relieve yourself of this nightmare. We, the tutors at the writing center, know it does not have to be this way, but it takes that first step of courage in the direction of others who know your struggles and who can provide you with the assistance you need to battle what seems like a monster of a paper. We want our tutees leaving a session with a whole new perspective on the writing process, shouting a famous quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful!” followed by an evil scientist laugh. And then, continue on to meet their deadlines with papers that flow from point to point and sentence to sentence, rather than one that is stitched together with random pieces much like the grotesque creature in Shelley’s novel. Basically, we are here to assist students with all of their writing demons, big or small, and make the writing process less intimidating for anyone brave enough to ask.
Not every paper is this big, unsurmountable task, and we at the writing center understand that. Sometimes, though, it is useful to have another brain and fresh set of eyes available to make sure all of your ideas are portrayed and organized most accurately and we are glad to help in this way. However, there are those writers who come into the center or submit a paper online with grammar and punctuation as their main concern for a research paper, but it turns out they are missing something important like a strong thesis statement. At times, writers want to focus on grammar and punctuation issues first, when really there are bigger problems to tackle. This is when we, the tutors, exclaim as we sterilize our tools and prepare to operate, “Don’t fret tutees! We can do this together!”
Every writer goes about the writing process differently. Some people like to make an outline before attempting a paper, while others like to sit down and start writing the paper immediately. Everyone has their own writing rituals and we get that. And just because you make an appointment at the writing center does not mean you have to present us with a polished, finished paper. Come in to brainstorm. Stop in to start your research. Sit down and make an outline so you can actually start your paper!
I had a nontraditional student the other day sign up for a face-to-face session because she was having trouble finding valuable research pertaining to her topic. She explained to me that through her search of the library’s databases, she couldn’t find anything remotely relevant, even using all the tactics she had learned about using keywords and other tricks to narrow her topic. I asked her, “Have you tried googling anything?” and her eyes grew wide with shock like she had just seen a ghost. She said her professor warned to stay clear of using Google when hunting for sources. I explained to her why I thought her professor said this and it is because some students use Google to acquire immediate sources rather than effective, scholarly ones. We did a little looking around on Google Search and found a book that could very well lead her in the direction of great sources. Within this book, we were able to identify its own reference page to many articles which related to her topic. We then took one of the articles and searched it through Marshall’s online database and there it was: full-text and all. With that, this student found her fears relieved of using Google the wrong way for a topic she thought she would never find credible sources for to begin with.
Assistance with research is only one service we provide at the writing center. Like I said earlier, a session could start out with grammatical errors as the main concern for a client, but end with the two of you identifying the main points of a paper in order to create a strong thesis. It is a mystery for tutors and tutees alike as to the direction a session will take, but a better paper and, ultimately, a better writer is always at the center of every tutor’s agenda. It is up to the writer, however, to be brave enough to sign up for that first session at whatever point they may be in the writing process and to remember Mary Shelley’s words regarding the beginning of an invention: “…it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”