Tips for Writing That Pesky Paper
So, you’ve been avoiding writing that midterm paper until the day before it’s due, and now you realize you need help. What now?
By Kristian Porter, Northern Kentucky University
Almost every university has one: A group of students who step up to fight for truth, justice and better grades on your term papers.
The Writing Center serves as the all-in-one service station for all your English needs. For a year and a half, I have worked as a tutor for my university’s center, and I have seen students from all educational levels and personal backgrounds come in looking for assistance.
As a Writing Center Tutor, I’ve accumulated a few pieces of advice for succeeding in college, whether you’re an incoming freshman or a senior approaching graduation. Here’s a list just for you.
1. Please, Please, Please Read the Assignment
I know, I’m starting with pretty groundbreaking advice, but I’m always surprised by the number of people who come in and haven’t even done this rudimentary step.
Professors pass out a syllabus the first week of classes, and that document should become your Bible. Read it. Learn it. Live by it. Along with a syllabus, your professor will probably also pass out an assignment sheet. I couldn’t tell you how many students have come to me with no idea of where to start on a paper, only to find out they had never even read the assignment sheet.
If you are panicking over a project and don’t know where to start, always try going back to the basics.
2. Get to Know Your Professor
Something else that always surprises me is the number of students who don’t even remember their professor’s name when they come in for their appointment.
No one is going to have more information on how your assignment should be completed than your professor. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a college with small class sizes that allow for one-on-one interaction with your professor, but I know this isn’t always the case. You can feel lost among a sea of other students in large lectures, and your professor can seem like an intimidating stranger.
However, it can’t hurt to try meeting with them during their office hours to discuss assignments or your class performance. At the very least, try to come up to them after class, start a conversation and develop a more familiar relationship. I guarantee you that much of your questions can be answered by just a simple talk with your professor.
3. Come in Early
Most students think that the Writing Center is there to help proofread your paper before you turn it in, but that’s not what they do. Tutors are there to help you learn how to learn. They can help assist you in editing your paper, sure, but they also help with all stages of the writing process.
One piece of advice I cannot stress enough is to come in early, long before the assignment is due and before you have even started the paper. Getting off to a good start can make all the difference in not only the quality of your assignment, but also your confidence as a writer.
My favorite part of my job is helping someone in the prewriting phase of the writing process. I love brainstorming topics, mapping out connections and working to outline the paper. It’s an underused resource that the center offers, and I really advise you to take advantage of it.
4. “A” Students Need Help Too!
Another common misconception of the Writing Center is that it is only used by those who are struggling. While it is very helpful for those people, it’s also helpful for students who are generally confident in their writing abilities.
Everyone benefits from an extra set of eyes on their work. When you edit your own writing, you run the risk of skimming over mistakes or reading what you intended to write, but not the actual words on the page. At the very least, the Writing Center offers an objective editor to make your paper the absolute best that it can be.
5. We’re Also Students, so We Understand
Students get the impression that the employees in the Writing Center are teachers and professors and people who hold a lot of authority. It makes the center seem intimidating, and I see students all the time come in looking really scared. The tutors are students just like you. In classes, I’ve sat right next to a lot of the people who come in to see me. They are struggling in the same ways that you are, and they understand what you’re going through.
If your paper is due the next day, and you want to come in, but you’re worried that the tutor will scold you for procrastinating, please come in anyway. From experience, I can tell you that they procrastinate too, and you have nothing to worry about. Likewise, if you’re worried about judgment based on your writing ability or the subject matter of the assignment, please come in anyway.
The Writing Center is a resource designed to help you succeed, but they can’t do that unless you seize the opportunity.
Even if you’re just looking for an extra boost of confidence, someone to reassure you that you’re not the worst writer in the world (everyone feels that way, I promise. Your tutors included), consider coming in. I’ve had conversations with students about everything from family life to career goals to baking cookies. My job is to listen to your concerns, whatever those may be, and to help you in whatever ways that I can. The Writing Center is always there for you.
6. You’re Going to Be Okay
Above all, what I’ve learned as a Writing Center tutor is that everyone is just figuring out what they’re doing as they go along. Anyone can benefit from tutoring, even from professional tutoring services (see these wyzant reviews for one example). I get freshmen all the time who come in, overwhelmed by the workload and scared of their prospective futures, and they ask me if I have any advice. On the other hand, I get seniors, a month out from graduation, who have come full-circle in their college journeys. They are just as overwhelmed and scared and in need of reassuring words. I will say to you the same thing that I say to them: You will be okay. You will get through this assignment, you will get through this semester, you will get through college and you will come out on the other side a better, more educated, capable person who will succeed in reaching their goals.
Just breathe. The semester is almost over.