“Don’t Do it on Your Own”: A How-to for College Writing

The ability to write clear, concise, and creative material is a skill that benefits students in all majors. No matter your department, from the Sciences to the Arts, you won’t leave this university without completing your fair share of research papers, literature analysis, or creative writing assignments.

For some students, this skill comes naturally. They may be able to clearly articulate their most engaging ideas with no questions of proper citation or grammar. For most of us, however, we could use some assistance when it comes to our outlines and MLA formatting. Where can we find this assistance? The UW-Madison Writing Center.

The facilities and staff that comprise the Writing Center offer a variety of resources for students, including one-on-one meetings, campus workshops, classroom visits, online materials, and more. According to Coordinator of Outreach for the UW-Madison Writing Center, Leah Pope, the Writing Center is “designed to meet writers wherever they are,” no matter their skill level.

In fact, services are offered for both undergraduate and graduate students. Pope believes the idea that only remedial writers need feedback is completely incorrect. “You don’t grow out of needing to talk to someone about your writing…You never get good enough that it doesn’t help you anymore,” says Pope. Bringing in a thesis, an outline, or a completed draft can serve as one of many valid starting points for your revision process.

To make the most of your visit, the Writing Center suggest coming in early and often during the semester, having an idea of what you want to achieve/ discuss in your meeting, bringing in any class or supplemental materials that will help with your assignment or project, and planning time for revision. Times, locations, and other details for in-person on online (Skype) Individual Writing Instruction sessions can be found on the Writing Center’s website.

Another popular resource offered to students is the free writing workshops held throughout the year. Some examples of past workshop topics include writing pharmacy school personal statements, applications for the Business School, academic writing for multilingual writers, and virtual resume´ writing using LinkedIn. These workshops allow many students to improve their writing together alongside an instructor and their peers. Attending one of these events with friends or classmates could be one way to take advantage of this resource.


In addition to the many programs and services offered by the Writing Center, Pope has some advice for how new students can improve their college writing experience as a whole:

“Don’t do it on your own…Thinking that you can do it on your own means that you’re ignoring the fact that you’re here to learn from the people around you.”

The Writing Center isn’t the only place students can go to discuss their writing and assignments. Consider visiting your professor’s office hours and ask the person giving the assignment exactly what they’re looking for. This can help direct your writing and understand criteria for grading. Students can also visit Greater University Tutoring Services (GUTS) for questions relating to specific course content. Tutors and assistance programs are offered for many subjects, including chemistry, economics, language, and more! “Don’t wait to get an ‘F,'” says Pope. “An ‘F’ is a learning opportunity, but you could have learned before you got the grade…You can learn more by being proactive” and using campus resources, faculty members, or your peers!

“[When you come to college] there’s a shift in what the point of your writing assignments is. It’s no longer that you have to write papers in your English class [to] prove that you know how to write. Instead, it’s [that] you’re writing papers in your English class, or your history class, or your science classes to show that you know how to think.”

One way to ensure you’re keeping this objective in mind is to allow yourself the process of revision. Draft you thesis and know you have to come back as your ideas and arguments change. “You’re not going to start with your final idea. The best ideas come at the end,” says Pope. The Writing Center helps you learn this revision and revisiting process, so you can do it on your own later.“One of our main goals [is] to send you home with strategies, so you can learn to write without us…We want to put those skills out there into the writing community at the University,” says Pope. “We want to build stronger writers, not just a stronger piece of writing.”

And finally, “I think it’s a misconceptions to think that you should only work in groups when you’re forced to. Having a group of people in a class working towards the same assignment…and are in a similar place is helpful.”

Talking with people, whether that be your roommate, classmates, or others can be especially helpful if you find yourself having writers block. Turn on something to record and talk through your ideas with a peer. Mapping your ideas this way may help you gather evidence, come to a strong thesis, and even outline your paper. Another strategy would be rereading class material and taking notes on interesting concepts or topics you come across. If you are stumped on what exactly you want to include or argue in your assignment, finding aspects you are especially interested could help spark a thesis.

We recognize that writing may not be every students strong suit. However, we also recognize that it is possible for everyone to succeed by taking advantages of the resources provided for you. When struggling on your next assignment, remember:

    • Even, and especially, expert writers come to the Writing Center. You don’t grow out of needing to talk about your writing and ideas.
    • Writing in college is about showing that you know how to think, not just how to write.
    • Writing Center staff can meet you wherever you’re at, with a detailed draft or a general thesis.

For questions on the Writing Center and its programs, visit their website or contact them via phone, (608)263-1992, or email, wcenter@writing.wisc.edu

Photo Sources: 1, 2

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