The Writing Center at USF

The campus resource helps students structure their writing, improving the end result and sometimes a course grade.

 

Writing Center Coordinator Kate Pantelides confers with student Raishka Ramirez. Photo credit: Aimee Blodgett | USF News

 

 

By Barbara Melendez

USF News

 

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 22, 2011) – Something to think about as classes begin… Do you hand in your papers with confidence or trepidation? Is your grade always a surprise – and an unpleasant one at that? Has your confidence been shaken and you think you’re a terrible writer? Take heart and consider what famed author Ernest Hemingway said, “All first drafts are (expletive).”

 

The best writers know good writing requires rewriting.

 

Typically writers have to figure out what it is they want to say and then how to say it well. When they get better at it, the two happen closer together, but even then rewriting is an important step.

 

“Sometimes students suffer in silence,” said Writing Center Coordinator Kate Pantelides. “They think if writing is not easy for them that they’re bad or at worst, stupid, or sometimes they’ve been told they can’t write.”

 

Pantelides and her staff at the USF Writing Center know that writing is a skill that improves with practice and with knowing how to use the rules.

 

Students who receive help from USF’s Writing Center are certain of one thing. They’ve put their best foot forward and have at least passed one important review. Then the only question about their grades is, how high?

 

Even though the Writing Center staff is not focused on grades, per se, and they don’t sit in judgment of the quality of the work they see, just the process of learning what would make the final product better – makes the final product better.

 

The location couldn’t be more convenient. A program in partnership with the USF Libraries, with services available for free to students, faculty, and active staff,  the Writing Center is right on the first floor of the USF Tampa Library. That’s within the Learning Commons area, where students can get on-demand help from librarians, and where the highest density of study space and open-use computers are found.

 

Not convinced the Writing Center can help? Afraid or embarrassed to ask for help?  Don’t be.  Students at all levels get help – the struggling ones, their top award-winning Honors College classmates and graduate students alike. They’re motivated enough to aim high and brave enough to ask for assistance.

 

The Writing Center staff agrees that students need to understand there’s only one thing professors want to focus on when they read papers from their students: the quality of the analysis that answers the question or that covers the topic at hand. Wading through bad grammar and a confusing presentation ruins the experience for them and lowers the grade they give.

 

The Writing Center won’t teach students grammar or proofread and make corrections to spelling or punctuation – that’s the student’s job. What the writing consultants will do is review what’s put in front of them – at any stage – point out problems and offer useful help.

 

“Students can walk in with an idea, or no idea, with scribbled notes or with a partially done or completed paper,” Pantelides said. “We often find it’s the most talented students who keep coming back.”

 

She added, “Writing is a process. The big things we focus on are the ideas, the structure and the organization. We’re totally here as student advocates.  And there’s no extra charge.  Services are covered by tuition.”

  

Assistance comes from writing consultants, 16 graduate assistants working on their master’s degrees and doctorates in English or communications who have taught at different levels.  Sessions are 50 minutes long.

 

“One of the biggest challenges is the student who comes in with a paper that’s due in two hours,” said James Ricci, a writing counselor. “We’re busiest around midterms and the end of the semester.”

 

Progress is something they see at the Writing Center every day.

 

“I’ve seen students make complete 180s, and that’s extremely rewarding,” Ricci said. “We try to emphasize to students that they should never feel ashamed or embarrassed. They’re usually surprised when we don’t judge them.” 

 

Graduate student Andrea Lypka, a multimedia major in the School of Mass Communication, is a regular at the Writing Center. She can be found there twice a week.

 

English is not my first language and when I felt I had difficulties in school my graduate studies adviser sent me to the writing center,” she said. “I owe the Writing Center a lot, they try to always accommodate me and they helped me a lot. My communication skills have improved in general. Frankly, my life is much better since I’ve been going there.    

 

Another graduate student, Ho Park, a foreign language speaker himself, majoring in Instructional Technology in the College of Education, said he contacted the center because of the differences he finds between Korean and English. 

 

I needed some guides for English expressions and academic writing styles. However, my fundamental goal was to improve my English writing,” he said.

 

He was most interested in working on his conference proposals, journal articles and his doctoral dissertation.

 

“In general, they read through my draft and told me if there were any weird expressions and incorrect grammar,” he said. “I discussed the issues with them to use better or more appropriate expressions.”

 

He recommends being prepared to dialog with the counselors and to just keep writing and keeping appointments with the counselors on a regular basis.

 

“As an international graduate student, academic English writing has been a tough challenge. They reviewed my conference proposals, journal articles, and a variety of statements, so I was able to present at a variety of national and international conferences and get a couple of articles published over the last few years.”

 

 In addition, he successfully applied for the USF Dissertation Completion Fellowship with the center’s help. “Their flexibility and their caring attitudes were also very helpful and impressive to me.” 

 

Senior Jenna Dionisio is a dual-major in biomedical sciences and honors research with a minor in biomedical physics in the College of Engineering. One appointment, on the advice of her English Composition I teacher, turned into many over the past three-and-a-half years.

 

“Upon entering college, my skills in grammar were less than stellar. I made the decision to become a better writer,” she said. “The help from my writing tutors has enabled me to blog for a Tampa website, led to publication in the Tampa Tribune editorial section and equipped me with the tools to complete applications for medical school and national scholarships.”

 

Dionisio says she is the kind of student who learns best by being proactive.

 

“I often seek help from my professors, and I normally seek additional help through the workshops and tutoring available at USF.” For her, better grammar and punctuation have meant better grades, and more.

 

“I won a Bullitzer prize for an essay I wrote during my first semester at USF,” she said. “The piece, titled ‘590 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts’ is an example of how much of a difference there is between what I wrote prior to attending USF and how the Writing Center and visits to office hours helped me to refine most of the grammar and iron out the mistakes.”

 

She added, “It is important for students to remember that the drafts they bring to the writing center are their work – they do not necessarily have to incorporate all the suggestions the writing staff gives them. In the end it is the writer's decision as to how they want their piece to evolve. 

 

Even English majors use the Writing Center as much as any other majors, like Zita Rarastesa. Critical comments from a professor led her to get help. 

 

“I realize that since English is my fourth language, it is very difficult for me to have a natural sense of the English language,” she said. “However, I believe that writing is a skill that I can learn with the help of people who know how to teach English to non English native speakers.” 

 

Jessica Borrero is a senior majoring in criminal justice. She knew that in coming to a major university, “professors would expect more of my writing. I was not sure what they were looking for so I did not take a chance and went and visited the Writing Center to make sure my papers were on point, and if they weren't, they could help me get there.” 

 

Her writing consultants helped her focus on grammar and sentence construction and understanding how to use punctuation as well as “where to end the sentence and begin a new one.”

 

She advises, “Be on time and spend the entire time scheduled. Ask questions, no question is a dumb question. And if you still do not understand what the tutor is saying ask for them to explain it again. They are very helpful.”

 

Trying to finalize a PhD proposal and seemingly making no sense of it led Eric Weaver, a PhD candidate in civil engineering and health policy management, to the Writing Center. But then, as he says, “…most services at USF are worth checking into.

 

“My work has gotten a lot more focused and closer to completion, I’m still working on it,” he said. “For my first meeting there I had some notes scribbled on a pad. Then it went to 20 pages of research ideas, and again I’m back revising the outline to get more focused on one theme. Best of all, my major advisor has seen the progress and better understands me, where I’m going and why.”

 

Some students don’t waste any time. John Strasser, a religious studies major now in his junior year, made an appointment as soon as he arrived at USF to work on his very first paper.

 

“I have gained so many things including better grammar skills and understanding a thesis, which could be the most important part of undergrad writing,” he said. “What I have gained the most is getting closer to not needing the Writing Center. From the first appointment I have made until now, maybe over 20 appointments, I have needed less and less revision and help. Get it? It works! Perhaps the greatest thing that the Writing Center can do is help a student go from reliance on their skills to total reliance on his or her own.”

 

All agree – counselors and students alike – using the USF Writing Center certainly can’t hurt. And one last note, writing is going to matter in the work world especially when it comes to managerial and executive positions.

 

 For more information on the Writing Center, visit http://guides.lib.usf.edu/writing or call (813) 974-2729.

 

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563