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University Writing Center Helps Writers Hone Work

BOONE—The University Writing Center isn’t just for students struggling with a term paper assignment. The writing center provides services for any writer who wants to improve their work – from research papers to creative writing.

“All writers need readers,” says Elizabeth Carroll, an assistant professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of English and director of the writing center. That’s the message Carroll wants everyone to know.

The writing center is staffed by Carroll, assistant director Emily Lindner, faculty and graduate student consultants from the Department of English and undergraduate students from different majors. This is Carroll’s fourth year as director of the center.

While the majority of their work is with students, Carroll says the center also serves faculty, staff and members of the community. “We work with writers on any writing project and at any stage of development,” she said.

Their process begins first by asking questions.

“We provide feedback by asking questions about the paper’s intended audience,” Carroll said. “We don’t pretend to be experts on the subject matter. We ask enough questions to see if the writer is reaching the intended audience and fulfilling goals of the assignment.”

It’s that one-on-one feedback that may be a writer’s most valuable tool. “People think we can show up in a class and offer a few tips and tricks in an hour,” Carroll said. “That’s a misunderstanding of literacy and the lifelong process that it is. We can be much more effective working with people individually in the writing center.”

Carroll, who earned her undergraduate degree from Appalachian, said she began to better understand writing process theories and how people write while in graduate school and as a writing teacher at Wilkes Community College. She earned her Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition from UNC Greensboro. “Good writing involves conversation, revision and writing multiple drafts -all of which are supported in writing centers,” she said.

“People who write professionally know their work is better when it has been reviewed by as many people possible,” Carroll said. “We want to pass that message on to others — that your work, no matter how good it is to begin with, will be better if you have gotten feedback from an informed and sensitive reader.”

Appalachian’s writing center has seen a spike in visits since it moved from Sanford Hall to the lower level of Carol Grotnes Belk Library and Information Commons. Writing center staff conducted almost 1,000 consultations during the 2005 fall semester compared to 700 in fall 2004.

It sees a variety of students, from those needing remediation to perfectionists wanting to improve their work.

In addition to one-on-one counseling, the center will be offering preparatory workshops for students required to pass a writing proficiency exam for admission to the Walker College of Business. The staff also helps students prepare for the writing section of the Praxis I Paraprofessional Skills Test required for admission to the university’s teacher education program.

An offshoot of the writing center’s work is the research the staff is generating. Seven graduate students presented their research at the Southeastern Writing Center Association conference held in Chapel Hill, including two who studied ways to assist learning disabled students in the writing center. Another presented research on ways to help students who have failed the writing portion of the Praxis exam.

“There is a lot of knowledge making and sharing occurring in the writing center,” Carroll said.

The writing center is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are accommodated.

For information, call 262-3144.