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As the semester begins to wrap up, assignments and papers from the gazillion classes you take have probably begun to pile up on that never ending to-do list. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Though you might not remember this from your first-year writing seminar, there is a resource that could come in handy during the next few weeks: the Writing Center. Here are a few tips to help you get comfortable using it.

Note: The Writing Center is not open to Barnard, Teacher’s College, and School of Social Work students since these schools have their own respective writing centers. The exception is if a student is taking a Columbia course not offered by their respective schools.

How to prepare for a Writing Center appointment:

The Writing Center staff won’t care if you bring a draft, an outline, an idea, or a proposal. A paper at any stage of the writing process for any subject is absolutely acceptable. They don’t judge. The key here is to just sign up.

Feeling a little unsure about whether your draft is ready for a second pair of eyes? Writing Center regular Alissa Kruidenier, GS ’18, says you shouldn’t worry.

“When I get assigned a paper, the first thing I do is log on to my profile and just make an appointment,” she said. “It just forces me to at least take a look at the assignment and at least know what it is. Regardless of what stage I’m at in the process, I always leave a step ahead.”

In addition to academic assignments, consider using the Writing Center for feedback on personal statements and projects like speeches and presentations.

How to schedule an appointment:

The Writing Center offers both walk-in and scheduled appointments. Head on over to the writing center website and create a profile to view walk-in hours and schedule appointments. To ensure a productive appointment, choose your consultant wisely. Do your research on the Writing Center fellows to find which adviser best suits your needs. The website’s automated software releases a calendar of available appointment slots for the next five days, every day around 12-2 a.m. (Translation: Every day, the slots for the next four days are likely to be full. However,at about 12-2 a.m., you’ll probably be able to make an appointment scheduled for five days later). Due to the limited number of slots available, appointments fill up within minutes of release. Unfortunately, getting an appointment requires effective planning, persistence, and refreshing the calendar page—less like your typical last-minute paper and more like your carefully planned execution of Bacchanal ticket acquisition. If you decide to use walk-in hours, be prepared for a long waiting period. The Writing Center is notorious for its shortage in personnel. However, even if you don’t have a scheduled appointment and your walk-in wait is too long or you can’t get a meeting, you may still find some help in the physical space of the writing center at the “center table.”

“While we don’t formally offer peer-to-peer editing, I see it organically happen at the center table all the time,” Jason Ueda, director of the Writing Center, said. “Writers just start asking each other and classmates touch base with one another so that center table can be a really generative space.”

In addition, the Academic Resource Center in Lewisohn offers peer-to-peer tutoring for General Studies students.

Appointment pro tips:

You probably won’t get much out of an hour-long Writing Center appointment that you haven’t prepared for at all, since time flies and the Center’s consultants are busy people. Take 10 to 15 minutes before your meeting to consider the following things:

Figure out a concise way to explain the assignment at hand to the writing fellow (most fellows are graduate students, so don’t just assume they understand the expectation of all the classes here—including the Core classes). Where are you in the writing process and where do you need to be? Evaluate the roadblocks you are facing. Is your thesis unfocused, your research lacking in clarity, or your analysis just not deep enough? Read through and annotate your own work several times. The flaws in the structure of your work will show themselves, which is a perfect starting point for a conversation about how to improve. Take a deep breath: Help is on its way (or, rather, you’re on your way to the help). And if all else fails, at least you started that essay a little sooner than you probably would have otherwise.

What to expect from an appointment:

If you are looking for validation, skip this resource: Ueda explains that the Center functions as a place for constructive critique.

“We will help writers in their writing process as readers and we aim to move a writer one step forward in their project,” he said.

And that step can even be the second—or the first—step: You can bring a bare-bones outline and get some feedback on where to go next.

“We want to make a distinction that we are an academic resource,” Ueda said.

He also pointed out some of the misconceptions about the Writing Center, and has some solid advice about what it isn’t for: proofreading.

“Sometimes people will come in asking for editing help, and in those instances we have to abide by the honor code where we cannot act as a copy-editor, which would entail editing the text,” he said. “That is antithetical to what we want to do. We want the writer to manipulate their own text.”

While the Writing Center may seem difficult to navigate, with adequate preparation and planning, this office can act as a self-help source. Working through some of the Center’s hoops can yield a worthwhile writing experience of introspection and growth. | @CUSpectrum

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