Incomplete Perceptions of the Writing Center

As I was creating surveys for my research project, I decided to look over the criteria for writing intensive courses at St. Norbert. The WI class description is pretty basic and includes requirements you may expect to find in WI classes. However, I found one section that caught my eye and made me again wonder about professor’s perceptions of the writing center. The section says,

Instructors should concentrate in class on the higher order concerns about writing-content, organization, audience, research, etc.-and address lower order concerns-grammar and mechanics, for example-individually with students as these problems pertain to specific writing assignments. Instructors should refer students with basic writing problems to The Writing Center. (“St. Norbert”) (emphasize mine)

The last sentence in the paragraph surprised me because I feel that this sentence encourages incorrect perceptions about the writing center. Yes, we are here to help students with basic writing problems and with lower order concerns. But that is not all we do. The paragraph in the WI description makes it seem that professors are to address higher order concerns while the writing center picks up the lower order concerns that professors don’t have time to address or that the writing center only helps students who struggle with writing.

So, I began to think why professors might think of the writing center as a place that only helps students with basic writing problems. Here are a few things I came up with:

  1. The writing center is staffed by students who are not professional writers or teachers and who themselves are still learning good writing skills.
  2. The client report forms may often address basic writing skills and not higher order concerns. The forms may not give a professor a good idea of what goes on in a consultation because the forms are written more for the students’ benefit, and writing center consultants don’t fill in all the background knowledge of what happened in the consultation.
  3. Some students who go to the writing center still hand in poor papers because the writing center consultant cannot transform a paper in 30 minutes; the student must take responsibility for transforming their own paper.
  4. It seems that writing center visits are required in lower level classes more than they are required in upper level classes.

Professors can get the wrong idea about the writing center whether they get those ideas from print material, personal experiences, or an incomplete understanding of the writing center. I think it’s important to recognize why some professors have an incomplete view of the writing center, and I think that we should re-evaluate the description of the writing center in the writing intensive course description.

“St. Norbert College Writing-Across-the Curriculum Program.” Writing Across the Curriculum. St. Norbert College. 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <>.



Leave a Reply