A table filled with bookmaking supplies and coffee cups

Tending Other People’s Texts: Writing Center Tutoring and MFA Workshops

By Sarah Dimick

Sarah is a Ph.D. candidate in literary studies at UW-Madison, and has taught at the Writing Center since 2013.  Before coming to Madison, she received an MFA in poetry from New York University.

Headshot of Sarah Dimick

Sarah Dimick

Last winter, during a late afternoon appointment, a graduate student in the history department asked me how he might make the final chapter of his dissertation more compelling.1  We’d already discussed what I think of as skeletal concerns: the order of his paragraphs, the clarity of his topic sentences.  We’d already examined his thesis and his conclusion for coherence.  I asked if he was concerned that the intellectual contribution of this chapter wasn’t sufficiently groundbreaking, that other scholars in his discipline might not feel he was making a substantial intervention.  “My argument’s brilliant,” he told me, “but this chapter is totally dry inside.  I want to write the kind of history that makes people turn pages, to write a story where the characters come alive.  How do you do that?”

A few weeks later, I met with an undergraduate student in an advanced physics course who was trying to condense the caption beneath one of the figures in her lab report.  “The challenge,” she explained, “is that I’m trying to say so much in so few words.  It’s like writing a haiku about a gravitational field.  Each word has to be so precise.”

And this past fall, a senior applying to medical school pulled three crumpled pages of paper out of her backpack.  She spread them on the table in front of us, each one containing a different opening paragraph to her personal statement.  “My academic advisor said the first paragraph needs to give the admissions committee a sense of my voice,” she said.  “But after writing all of these, I’m not sure any of them are me yet.  And I’m worried my voice isn’t the kind of voice med schools like anyway.  I guess what I’m saying is that I need to find a voice.  Really soon.  Before this is due on Tuesday.” Continue reading

How We [Actually] Write: Neurodiversity, Writing Process, and Writing Instruction

Leah Pope

By Leah Pope

Leah Pope has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since fall of 2014. She is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies, writing a dissertation that explores representations of disability and bodily difference in Anglo-Saxon England.

Alexandra Gillespie opens her essay in How We Write: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blank Page by confessing that she only writes when she has to [1]. “Because reasons” (19). She writes this casually, as if she’s not breaking my mind by using Internet diction. But it’s not just her delightful, playful writing style — shared by many of the essays in this collection — that is revealing. Gillespie describes anxious and determined binge writing, fueled by deadlines ranging from a DPhil advisor’s note asking to have coffee — how terrifying! — to a paper promised to a friend/colleague for review. She describes writing 6,000 words in one day to meet a deadline — not drivel, mind you, but a conference paper and later the core of a book chapter. Continue reading

Two Heads Are Better: An Experiment in Paired Skype Tutoring

Picture of the author

Picture of the author in Madison, WI.

By Leah Misemer

Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she has been working as a Writing Center instructor for three years.  She served as the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison for the 2013-14 school year.

Usually, we think of a writing center appointment as a collaboration between two people, the tutor and the student.  If there are more than two people in an appointment, we frequently assume that there are more students working with a single tutor.  In the Spring of 2014, my Skype team, in a professional development activity modeled after a previous in-person paired tutoring experiment, discovered that there are many benefits to sharing the task of instruction, both for instructors and writers. Jessie Gurd and I had complementary skills and working together showed us not only the gaps in our knowledge, but also offered strategies to help us fill those gaps.

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The Importance of Being Interested

By Michelle Niemann

Michelle Niemann is the assistant director of the writing center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 2013-2014. Her first tutoring experience was in the writing center at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, in 2003 and 2004. She recently defended her dissertation and will receive her PhD in English literature from UW-Madison in May. 

The author on a bird-watching walk at Horicon March.

Michelle bird-watching at Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. Photo by Liz Vine.

Tutoring in the writing center at University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2009 has given me a great gift: it has shown me the power of being interested. In anything, or anyone. In the next student signed up to meet with me and whatever project they’re working on. At the same time, as a graduate student in English literature at UW-Madison, I’ve also learned a lot about the corresponding power of being interesting.

Being interesting is, quite rightly, the coin of the realm in advanced scholarship. And I’ve absolutely, nerdily loved the opportunity to pursue my interests in poetic form and sustainable farming by writing a dissertation about organic metaphors in both fields. But I’m also grateful that I’ve been working in the Writing Center, because tutoring constantly reminds me, and indeed requires me, to look up and notice at least some of the other interesting things going on around me. Continue reading