Writing Excellence Unit

The Concept of a Writing Unit

Writing centers exist in a variety of shapes, sizes, and settings. Typically they are part of a writing program or learning center and serve the entire university. Although writing centers may differ in size, specific services, source of staffing, and organizational procedures, they share the following approaches:

  • Tutorials are offered in a one-to-one setting
    Tutors, who may be peers, professionals, graduate students, part-time instructors, or full-time lecturers, meet individually with writers in the writing center either briefly (e.g., fifteen to twenty minutes) or for more extended periods of time (typically an hour) to attend to that particular writer’s concerns. The writers who attend the center may come in only a few times for specific help or on a regular basis. Some writers seek help on their own; others appear at the recommendation of their lecturers.
  • Tutors are coaches and collaborators, not teachers
    Tutors do not evaluate their students in any way because the tutor’s role is to help students, not to lecture at them or repeat information available from the teacher or textbook. Instead, tutors collaborate with writers in ways that facilitate the process of writers finding their own answers. To accomplish this, tutors may engage writers in discussions of their topics so that writers can develop their ideas and practice the phrasing and vocabulary of the kinds of discourses they will be writing. Tutors may also offer reader feedback on developing drafts of papers, suggest writing strategies, diagnose writing problems, ask questions, review misunderstood or missing information, listen to writers, and help them gain a perspective on their writing.
  • Each student’s individual needs are the focus of the tutorial
    No two tutorials are alike because every writer is different. The starting point of every tutorial is to find out what that particular student needs or wants. To set the agenda for the tutorial, tutors assess the student’s present situation, class requirements, past writing history, general composing habits and approaches to learning, attitudes, motivation, and whatever else is needed to determine how the tutor and student should proceed. Students are encouraged to participate actively in setting the agenda for how the tutor and student will spend their time together.
  • Experimentation and practice are encouraged
    Because learning to write involves practice, risk-taking, and revising, writing centers are places where students are encouraged to try out and to experiment. Removed from the evaluative setting of a classroom, writers are free to engage in trial runs of ideas and approaches, to fail and move on to another attempt, and to receive encouragement for their efforts. Names of various facilities, such as writing center, writing lab, writing place, or writing room, are meant to encourage this view of the writing center as an informal, experimental, active place. This trying-out can be either in the form of talk, as writers practice formulating ideas aloud, or in writing.
  • Writers work on writing from a variety of courses
    While writing centers complement writing courses by providing individualized help, writing centers also serve the entire institution by working with writers doing business and lab reports, history term papers, job and school applications, resumes, graduate dissertations, word processing, biology papers, writing contests, and any other writing projects with which students are involved. As writers move beyond writing courses and attempt unfamiliar writing tasks, they profit from interaction with tutors. In institutions with active writing-across-the-curriculum programs, the writing center is an integral service, providing the primary source of writing assistance for other courses.
  • Writing centers are available for students at all levels of writing proficiency

    Writing centers generally do not limit themselves to working with writers at a particular level of writing skills. Developmental students often have special programs available for them in writing centers, including credit courses which focus on individualized tutorial assistance, but the majority of students using most writing centers are enrolled in a variety of writing courses or courses in other fields. In addition, students learning English as a second language use writing centers to work on their writing skills.

    There are a number of underlying assumptions which guide the writing center’s tutorial approach to writing. In the writing center, the uniqueness of each writer is acknowledged as well as the writer’s individual needs and the benefits the writer can gain from personal attention. The function of a writing consultant, on the other hand, is to provide non evaluative, immediate oral feedback, to attend only to that student’s questions, and to engage with the student in some active planning, drafting, or revising. The tutor’s goal in working on a specific paper with a student is to help that student develop general writing skills. Tutors often rely on asking questions that help students find their own answers, thereby keeping the tutorial an interactive situation in which the student is encouraged to do as much or more talking than the tutor. Numerous studies indicate not only that tutorial instruction benefits writers but also that it enhances their motivation and attitudes. Anxieties about writing are reduced by helpful coaching, positive reinforcement, and the friendly listening ear of the tutor.

    In the writing center the writer joins a community of writers. At a time when the field of composing is focusing on the socializing nature of writing, there is a growing recognition of the writing center’s role in providing writers with first-hand experience in interacting with readers who can help writers learn about the discourse community for which they are writing. In a room full of other writers, writers collaborate with their tutors, who are themselves encouraged during their training to be actively involved with writing as well. Writers are thus assisted in discarding the antiquated view of the lonely writer secluded from the world as she struggles to communicate with an unknown, unseen audience. Writing centers also reinforce the generally accepted emphasis on writing as a process, for in the center writers actually engage in writing processes with tutors as they learn by doing how to plan, to brainstorm, to ask questions for revision, to rework written text, to add variety to sentence structure, to organize large amounts of material into a research paper, to proofread, and so on. Two cardinal rules for writing centers are that there be easily accessible stacks of scratch paper lying around and that the pen remain in the hand of the writer.

How can a consultant help you?

A Writing Consultant can…

  • Become an audience for your paper
  • Help you work out an organisational strategy for your ideas
  • Help you create and focus a thesis or outline
  • Let you know where you might need more details or evidence
  • Help you identify specific grammar problems
  • Show you how to proofread and edit your own writing
  • Suggest research sources or techniques.

A writing Consultant cannot…

  • “Fix” a paper for you at the last minute
  • Asses your paper in your absence
  • Take your paper away from the Writing Excellence Unit to edit or complete your assignment
  • Give you specific answers to assignment questions
  • Formulate for you a thesis statement to fulfil your assignment
  • Write your paper for you


For more information on these and other related services that the Writing Excellence Unit offers; visit us at the Language Centre (UNAM, Main Campus) room 217 D-block or call 061-2063940 for an appointment during working hours (7:30 am to 16:30 pm).

Consultation hours:
Mondays - Friday
08:30 - 12:30
14:30 - 16;30

Ms. J.N. Izaks
Tel: +264 61 206 3889

Notes and Handouts

Contact Us

H. Hamakali
+264 61 206 4732