By Chris Chipello
Looking for tips on crafting term papers? Need to sharpen your self-editing skills? Check out the new McGill Writing Centre, tucked inside the terrace entrance to the Redpath Library building. The Centre, whose mission is to provide writing resources for students across the University, will hold a series of information sessions the week of Oct. 3.
As it gets off the ground this fall, the Centre will serve as the conduit for academic writing courses offered previously through the Faculties of Arts and Education. These include classes for native speakers, non-native speakers, graduate students and undergrads. Most are full to capacity, testifying to students’ eagerness for writing help.
“Writing is fundamental to the life of the University,” said Sue Laver, Director of the Writing Centre, which was formed from units formerly housed in Arts and Education.
“We plan by mid-October to launch a pilot tutorial service,” she said. “We’re in the process of selecting an online registration system, but we’ll probably have drop-in hours as well.”
In the longer run, the Centre will expand into business and professional writing and technical writing; “there’s also a great deal of interest in things like creative writing and magazine writing,” Laver said. Many of these courses will be offered through the School of Continuing Studies, which oversees the Centre and is well positioned to help it attract part-time students from the outside community.
The Centre will also work with individual faculties to find ways to help students improve their writing. That could include anything from consultations and workshops, to designing courses geared to specific fields.
“As one faculty member put it, ‘most professors don’t have the time or expertise to teach writing and usefully correct it,’” Laver said. “It’s a very time-consuming endeavor.”
The Writing Centre’s tutors may include students as well as course lecturers. All will go through a period of training. “A hallmark of our courses for a long time has been that we provide audio feedback to our students” through individualized MP3 files, Laver said. “The research shows it’s a lot more effective and long-lasting” than a few marginal written notes. “It also has affective benefits, in that it really does help to humanize the teacher-student relationship.”
Students may be able to drop off work at the Centre or submit it online, listen to the MP3 file after a tutor has read the document – then meet with the tutor to review and discuss the audio feedback. The Centre won’t provide a proofreading or editing service, Laver stressed. (That “would be contravening academic integrity.”) Rather, it will teach self-editing processes and techniques.
Laver also plans to establish a tutorial presence on the Macdonald campus so that Agricultural and Environmental Science students won’t have to trek downtown to get writing help.
The Centre will help students in all corners of the University deal with difficulties ranging from “basic, sentence-level problems,” to the larger challenge of organizing ideas “into a coherent, well-developed, logical argument,” she said.
Writing at the university level “is a different ballgame,” for which many high-school graduates are unprepared, Laver said. “Our ultimate goal is to empower students: no question, the skills they learn in our courses, seminars, workshops, and tutorials can be applied to their other courses and so increase their chances of academic success overall.”
For a schedule of information sessions, visit the Writing Centre’s homepage: www.mcgill.ca/mwc/