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The Writing Center takes the stress out of writing for RRHEC students

Writing Center staff with client
Writing Center Director Lisa Tomecek-Bias (standing) with tutor Ronny Roland and client Bessy Williams, a Nursing student.

March 2011—When college writing gets stressful, students at the Round Rock Higher Education Center can get help from the campus Writing Center.

At the Writing Center, now open five days a week in Avery 203, trained tutors provide individual counseling to students at any level of study, on the writing of essays, technical and research papers, formal letters, resumes, and more.

“We help students with every phase of the writing process, from finding research topics to organizing ideas and punctuating the final product,” said Writing Center Director Lisa Tomecek-Bias.

“Clients often preface their meetings with me by telling me they are horrible writers,” Tomecek-Bias said. “But, this isn’t true because I have yet to read a paper that I couldn’t understand. What the clients are usually trying to say is that they don’t understand what they’re being asked to do in writing or they don’t understand a particular model of writing or they don’t know how to organize a project.

“Often, clients know what they want to say but they need to talk about it,” she continued. “So, before we ever look at their paper, we begin by discussing their ideas and brainstorming ways of organizing their thoughts. When they begin to talk, they relax and realize they know how to get their point across.”

Thesisaurus
The Writing Center's mascot, Thesisaurus

The Writing Center’s two counselors, Tomecek-Bias and Ronny Roland, are both graduate students in English, and this implies a special benefit to clients. “Because Ronny and I are graduate students rather than faculty, our clients feel that they can be as frank with us as they need to be about their concerns. Also, as graduate students, we have encountered the same kinds of assignments and problems with the writing process as our clients. It’s good to be able to say ‘We’ve been there and done that.’”

While students visit the Writing Center for help at all stages of the writing process, Tomecek-Bias and Roland frequently address concerns related to:

 

  • Making the transition from undergraduate to graduate writing. “In graduate school, students conduct large-scale research projects—graduate theses, capstone projects, and papers of considerable size,” Tomecek-Bias said. “We help students learn to construct major writing projects by selecting topics appropriate to long papers and adjusting the scope of the project appropriately, then breaking it down into its component parts and making sure the project is conquerable.”
  • Discovering relevancy in research. “Many of our clients are students who return to school in mid-career. They often struggle to understand how the research and theory they read for class relates to their 20 years of experience in the field, because it can seem artificial and irrelevant to their everyday work,” Tomecek-Bias said. “We help these students to understand the academic writing process and to relate their ideas to what they are studying in class.”
  • Making research work for the student. “I had a client recently who was writing a literature review as part of a thesis. He felt that the literature review was a waste of time when he could be doing original research that was more useful,” Tomecek-Bias said. “I pointed out that the literature review wasn’t just a boring book report that his thesis committee required but an opportunity to put himself into the conversation of what is going on in his field. In reviewing other scholars’ work, he would be establishing the foundation on which his own work is built and presenting his work as the star of the show.”
  • Polishing a paper from beginning to end. “In reviewing students’ papers, we go from very broad issues to very specific ones,” Tomecek-Bias said, “the broadest being whether the paper addresses the issue it says it will address, and the most specific being whether commas are in the right places. We give the student strategies for determining whether a reader will understand what he or she intends to say, whether the ideas are clear and organized, whether the paper stays on topic and gives the reader enough information. At the very end, we address syntax, grammar, mechanics, and punctuation because these make meaning explicit.”
  • Group writing projects. Writing Center tutors are available to meet with groups to discuss and review group writing projects. “We take a variety of approaches to group projects,” Tomecek-Bias said. “If all group members show up together, we’ll look at the work the group has produced. Group members can also come in individually to discuss their individual contributions to the project.”
  • Helping non-native speakers to write comprehensibly in English. “Our clients who are still in the process of learning English are often capable, skilful writers in their own languages,” Tomecek-Bias said. “While their written English may be grammatically correct, it may not be phrased in the way native English speakers would typically say it. So, we talk about whether a phrase can be left as written or whether it needs to be changed to ensure comprehension.”
  • The Writing Center also provides help with style manual usage, source citations, and preparation for the GSP Exam.

“Written English is something like a foreign language to us because it’s stripped of the inflections, pauses and non-verbal cues that give meaning to conversational English,” Tomecek-Bias said. “When a reader doesn’t understand a piece of writing, she can’t say to the writer, ‘Wait, please clarify!’ Writing Center tutors are here to help students to write as clearly and coherently as possible by giving them certain tools. We get a kick from watching these tools empower our clients.”

The RRHEC Writing Center, located in Avery 203, is open by appointment Monday through Friday. Appointments, for 25 or 55 minutes, can be made online at http://writingcenter.txstate.edu/rrhec.html. First-time users will need to register for the website, but the process is quick and easy. No appointments are made by telephone.

Students at the RRHEC can also take advantage of online synchronous tutoring services offered by the Writing Center on the Texas State University-San Marcos campus. For those services, please visit http://writingcenter.txstate.edu.