WAC Consultant Handbook


The Mission of the Writing Assistance Center

Writing can be difficult. Frustrating.  Mind numbing.  Boring. Torturous, even.  At the Writing Center, we understand.  We also understand, however, that writing can be exciting.  Interesting.  Challenging. When you are interested in what you are writing about, and when you are invested in the project, writing becomes something more than a grade.  It becomes a site of personal expression, of new knowledge, of social and individual awareness, and of intellectual growth and mastery.   At the writing center, we work to transform students’ writing apprehension into appreciation, to help them find ownership and merit in their work. At the writing center, we work to take the sting out of writing. 

We strive to create better writersRather than offering editing services, we work with students to strengthen all aspects of their writing process to help them gain confidence in writing and in the texts that they produce.  With that in mind, we begin where they do:  from the beginning stages of writing to final polishing.

Our mission is to enable students to compose more fluently and with less apprehension and fear; to provide support when they are struggling with a writing project; to assist them with the further development of their critical thinking skills; and to acquaint them with the conventions and expectations of academic writing.  At the Writing Assistance Center, we help students become stronger and more diverse writers.

Workplace Professionalism

My hope is that the Writing Center is an enjoyable,invigorating, and intellectually stimulating place to work. However, it must also be an inviting place for clients—a place that they know they will be welcomed and appreciated. To that end, I ask that you always put our clients above any other work you are doing, short of interrupting an in-progress session. I also ask that you abide by the following rules:

  • Arrive on time and ready to work.


  • Respond to every email or message from the director or WCAs within 24 hours.


  • Greet every student or faculty member who enters the Center.


  • Exercise your best judgment about professional dress and conduct; if that judgment is questionable, I will discuss it with you privately.


  • Schedule coffee chats and friend visits outside of Writing Center shifts.


  • Avoid eating full meals during shifts; snacks and beverages are fine, however.


  • Store cell phones and personal items while you are working.


  • Avoid more than one consultant per table.


  • Refrain from Facebook chatting, YouTube perusing, and Netflix watching during shifts; computers should be used for conference summaries and academic research and writing.


  • Use the “Writing Center Task List” during downtime to determine weekly administrative and housekeeping assignments.


  • Do not, under any circumstances, publish information about Writing Center sessions or clients on personal websites, blogs, or Facebook.

If you have concerns about these policies or conflicts with other staff members, please talk to me about them. Workplace disputes can never, ever affect the service we provide students, and I can only resolve these problems if I know about them.  My door is always open to you.

That said, the Writing Assistance Center consultant position is a job and you are expected to treat it as such.  Consultants who do not act professionally or fulfill all professional obligations will be terminated.

Consultant Anxiety

It is completely understandable to be apprehensive and concerned about tutoring another person in how to write, especially when grades are at stake. You may feel concerns about your own level of writing skill, your ability to communicate with students, or what an instructor is “looking for” in a particular assignment. Basically, most tutors worry that they will give the wrong advice, the students will “bomb” their papers, and never come back.

But don't worry. Certainly, learning effective tutoring skills takes practice, and you might occasionally say the wrong thing or be overly praising of a paper. That is part of what this project is all about; hands-on experience is what will prepare you for the rigors of teaching; if you don’t like to work with student writers, you probably will not like teaching very much.

One of first lessons is that the strategies and techniques that work for one student will not work with another. Therefore, you will need to develop a variety of tutoring techniques, as well as develop the interpersonal skills that will help you choose a technique for each individual. This process becomes easier and easier with practice, as all new skills are. So be patient, and don’t be hard on yourself. We will have a file cabinet full of resources for you to use if you get stuck with a student.

You will likely find that your own writing improves as a result of your tutoring. After a semester of tutoring, many tutors notice an increased ability to reflect and re-consider their own work, as well as an ability to more fully understand usage and punctuation issues.

Consulting Goals

The goals of the Writing Center focus on student writers as well as consultants. Our primary objectives are:

·     To enable student writers to compose more easily,with less apprehension;

·     To help writers develop their own writing process;

·     To assist students with that process, helping them to prewriting, write, and revise their own work;

·     To assist writers with moving from their own“writer-based prose” (which typically meets their own needs) to “reader-based prose” (which meets the readers’ needs);

·     To help writers understand the conventions and expectations of academic writing, including research and documentation of sources.

Hierarchy of Concerns

When presented with a first draft, one of the most difficult tasks a writing consultant faces is prioritizing what to work on first. Thirty to fifty minutes will never be enough time to address thesis, organization, evidence,source citation, style, and grammar. The successful writing consultant will have to decide, usually within the first five minutes of a session, what is the most important aspect of the paper to work on at this particular time. Usually,consultants will use a combination of the client’s expressed concerns, the process of listening to the work read aloud, and their own experience to guide them in this important decision.

However, a general rule applies to the work you will do in this writing center. When in doubt, you should always prioritize the higher level concerns (sometimes called HLCs or global issues) above lower level concerns (also called LLCs or local issues). HLCs are typically the “big three”: thesis, organization, and evidence. Until a paper has a strong,specific thesis, a logical organization, and adequate support for that thesis,issues of grammar and syntax can wait. After all, the sentences in a paper with structural or thesis problems will probably undergo major revision, and some of them may not even be there the next time you see the draft. Only after the author has addressed (not “fixed,” but addressed)higher-level concerns should you focus on the lower-level concerns of syntax,usage, grammar, and punctuation.

Another decision a consultant has is how directive to be in her assistance. Directive tutoring refers to a style generally defined by prescriptive advice, less engagement on the client’s part, and more talking and writing on the consultant’s part. Non-directive tutoring uses the tools of inductive or rhetorical questions to engage the client in the work of the session, resists prescriptive advice in favor of descriptive solutions, and offers possibilities, not direction.

These terms exist on a continuum, however. Different consultants will work at different places in this range, and the same consultant may find herself working at different places with different clients,or even with the same client with different needs at different times. In otherwords, there is not one right place to be in the spectrum of directedness.However, our central goal of empowering writers as they develop their ownwriting processes demands that we take a generally non-directive approach. Whenin doubt:

  • Ask question instead of giving advice.
  • Offer several alternatives from which the writer can choose instead of a single best answer.

If you ever have questions or concerns about the level of direction or non-direction you’re using, please come talk to me.


Breaking the Ice

It is important to make your client feel comfortable, especially at the first few visits. Feel free to engage in some small talk for a few minutes. 

You can also ask questions like:

  • What’s your schedule like this semester? How many courses are you taking?
  • What sorts of writing assignments have you been assigned this semester?
  • What have your experiences been, in terms of writing?
  • How do you go about writing an essay? What kind of strategy do you have?
  • What are your major concerns with writing? (Or, the particular paper he or she has)
  • Do you have any general questions for me before we begin?

Even though students will be briefed about the role of tutors, some students may still be confused about the tutoring process. This is particularly true because most of the students will be first-year students. In the early tutoring sessions, the student writer might wonder:

  • Do I have to pay for this service? (No)
  • Will you proofread my papers for me? (The answer to that is NO!)
  • Can I bring any type of writing assignment here, or can I only bring English papers? (Yes)
  • Will my teacher find out I came here?  (Not if the student doesn’t want the teacher to know.)
  • Will it matter to my teacher that I came here? (Teachers will look upon the Writing Center as a positive step.)

If you sense a client has these concerns but is uncomfortable voicing them, it is acceptable for you to raise these issues in a compassionate manner. The general rule is, though, that you cannot speak to any issue that is within the domain of the teacher, like in terms of the grade you think a paper might or should get.

Once You Get Started

Inexperienced writers often share certain characteristics:

  • They often struggle with developing ideas or examples in their writing. They often don’t reflect sufficiently on what they have written.
  • Once they write something done, they often HATE to delete it or change it. I generally regard this as the “Every word is sacred” problem.
  • Writers often compose associatively, writing down their thoughts as they occur—sometimes writers do this because they worry they won’t remember what they have written otherwise.
  • Writers often forget that readers aren’t in their class, or haven’t read the same materials they have, or haven’t read the assignment, or don’t live in South Dakota, etc. Therefore, sometimes writing consultants can help students with developing context

If you are working with 033 students, you will most likely be working with the same student all semester; if you are not, you still may find that certain students will continue coming to see you. Acquiring useful information about your client is essential to building trust with him or her. Keep in mind that part of tutoring involves helping the student become an effective self-advocate. In other words, you want to encourage the student to gradually take more control over his or her own work. Here are some strategies for building the trust that leads to self-advocacy:

  • Ask tactful questions, being sensitive to your tone of voice.
  • Listen carefully to the student writer. Make sure that after you ask a question you pause appropriately, giving the student time to relax and answer your questions. Some student writers are nervous, and see you as an authority figure. Many teachers have also found that one of the toughest issues to deal with is silence-- but it is important to learn to provide your students with lengthy pauses.
  • Make empathetic comments to the student writer, like, “Yes, I can see how hard that story might be to condense,” or “I’ve always struggled with introductions, too,” but don’t traipse into terrain like, “Yeah, that teacher always gives hard assignments,” etc.
  • Share information about your own experience as a writer.
  • Maintain neutrality. If a student vents, just listen.
  • Writers may attend tutoring sessions at any stage of the writing process. So always suspend judgment if the student comes in seemingly unprepared.
  • Don’t chide the student for being “lazy”, unprepared, or unwilling to work. It’s okay to say, “Would you like to meet at a different time?”
  • Don’t take pen in hand and start marking up the paper. Try to keep the writer in control at all times.
  • Although it is not always necessary, it is often a good idea to give the client the opportunity to lay out all his or her relevant materials: notes, textbook, the assignment sheet provided by the instructor. In some cases, it is even necessary to make sure the client has a pencil and paper. Avoid doing much writing for the student. Whenever possible, have the student write down any suggestions, notes, or corrections to their work.
  • Read over the assignment sheet with the student. Ask for an explanation of the student writer's understanding of the assignment. Ask if the instructor provided any models or additional instructions not listed on the assignment sheet. Be  non-evaluative about the assignment itself; pursue the discussion solely to establish understanding and clarification. If the assignment required outside reading, like essays from The Norton Reader, ask the student to pull out his or her textbook.
  • The student may have developed prewriting, in the form of notes or lists, or she/he might have a draft in various stages. Consider these suggestions, depending on what stage of the writing process the student is in: prewriting, writing, or rewriting/revising.

Prewriting refers to the writing, thinking, and reading writers engage in before they write the first draft or part of the draft of an assignment. The client should bring his or her textbook, readings, handbook, assignment sheet, related notes, and writing implements. Your client might want to discuss:

  • Her or his understanding of the assignment objectives
  • Ideas he or she is thinking about using in the paper
  • Organizational or developmental plans for the essay
  • Readings upon which the paper is based
  • Issues that emerged during class discussion
  • Content captured in his or her lecture notes
  • His or her composing process; the student may be looking for new ways to go about writing
  • Possible topics or ideas to use in the essay
  • How to focus a topic into a workable thesis
  • Examples that would support an idea of thesis
  • Documentation, quoting conventions, and plagiarism issues

These types of discussions are a perfectly acceptable aspect of the writing process. You may provide an important service by helping a student think through his or her paper. Encourage the student to take notes on your discussion, to draft an outline of the paper, to jot down ideas or points. Many students benefit from additional discussion about the readings they have been assigned; they may not have fully understood them in terms of vocabulary, structure, or content.

Writing refers to those activities related to composition of the first draft. This part of the writing process is often the most agonizing for students. You might:

  • Assist the client with composing, helping him or her transform verbalized ideas into written form, which can be more difficult for the student writer than it might seem.
  • If the student has developed a partial draft but is stuck, ask him or her to read the paper to you. In the process of reading the paper to an "audience," some students catch usage mistakes or points needing clarification.  Whenever possible, you want to encourage the client to think through his or her writing process, so the more control the client has over his or her written words, the better. This technique also gives the client something active to do; otherwise, your client will have to sit silently while you read over the paper, which might increase the student's stress level.
  • Work with the student in terms of thesis, coherence, organization, paragraphing, word choice, audience awareness, etc., before you focus on the sentence-level elements of grammar and punctuation. In a sense, you are helping the student writer learn to critique his or her own work by temporary standing in as a sort of other, questioning self. You will be modeling for the student the kind of questions writers ask themselves as they compose.
  • When beginning writers draft, they frequently see every word as "precious," and are reluctant to cut or radically rearrange content. This belief can sometimes paralyze writers, causing them to freeze when faced when the blank page. Emphasize that that "words are cheap"-- cut material can always be rewritten, ideas can be reworked or expanded. Encourage student writers to pursue undeveloped ideas or rework thesis statements. Basically, students often see writing as risky, but not as an arena where they can take creative risks. As a more experienced writer, you can help!
  • If you are addressing issues of usage or punctuation in your tutoring conference, examine the draft in terms of patterns of error. You may notice that your client consistently misuses commas or certain verb forms. Think of the pattern of error as one error rather than numerous errors. By considering "mistakes" in this light, you can simplify your discussion of the concept to one issue, and then use the essay itself to show how the student is using a consistent pattern of error. Often, through discussion with the student, you can find out why a student makes a certain error; sometimes he or she misremembered a rule, or was taught the rule incorrectly.

Rewriting/Revising refers to any activity whereby the writer re-sees or reworks draft material. Most commonly, you will see a student bring in a rough draft, perhaps several days before the final is due. Often, though, students will bring in drafts that have already been graded by the instructor that need to be revised and resubmitted. Consider the following approaches:

  • If a student has brought in a rough draft, ask him or her to read it over out loud. The student writer might interrupt his or her own reading to ask you questions or get feedback. Encourage this interruption, because such an activity is a step toward self-advocacy.
  • If the student is unable to provide feedback about his or her own work, start with larger scale, or "macro" concerns, particularly with the first few tutoring sessions. Focus on writing issues like thesis/organization, development, and audience awareness. In later tutoring sessions, you can emphasize grammar and usage issues, punctuation, and word choice. Certainly, if a student has a question about something feel free to address it.    
  • In your tutoring capacity, you are also playing the role of the academic audience member.   You can alert the writer to problematic sections or logical gaps that he or she may not see. You may inhabit the role of the "questioning self," which the writer has not fully developed. Through various questioning strategies, you will be able to model revision techniques.
  • Encourage the student writer to further explain sections of the draft that seem weak or underdeveloped, or sections that lack the sort of fluent, logical links necessary for the audience.

You might have to explain instructor comments on a particular essay. Sometimes students will be confused about what the instructor meant, but won’t be comfortable asking the teacher. If you explain instructor comments, always be careful to present them neutrally and without judgment. Try to illustrate the comment by applying it to the student’s paper.

Although these elements of the writing process are identified as stages, keep in mind that the stages are recursive--meaning that within a particular assignment a student may prewriting, write, and rewrite simultaneously. A student may rewrite the introduction several times before proceeding onto the next stage of the draft. If a student comes to a tutoring session in the early stages of the writing process, do not be judgmental, even if they don't have a draft or anything written down. Tutors can provide a great deal of assistance in the writing process.

Guide to Invention/Prewriting

Remember that invention/prewriting is not reserved for the first phase of writing only; these tools can be used at any stage of the writing process,from generating topic ideas to finding additional support or examples for a third draft. You might present all as options and allow your client to choose the one that she finds most appealing. Or, you might choose to experiment with two or three strategies to identify which is most in line with her learning style.


Listing or Brainstorming

·     Free associate words or short phrases down the page in list format.  Alternatively, list what is known about the topic already, and then what is unknown or what needs to be known.


Clustering or Webbing

·     Begin with a central idea or word; free associate in thought trails from the centraland succeeding ideas.


Freewriting or Fastwriting

·     Write without stopping; if stuck, write the same word over or write, “I don’t know what to write” until a new idea comes.



·     Begin with who, what, when, and where regarding the topic. An alternative is to write twenty-five questions that the audience might have regarding the topic.



·     Conduct basic research on the topic.  What have others already said?  What are the controversies or current findings surrounding the topic or concept?



·     Use another individual as a sounding board. Discuss the subject and/or pose questions:  What is interesting about the topic?  Controversial?  Confusing? Do you have similar or conflicting views on the subject?



Invention writing is only for the writer, which means regular rules do not apply. Invention writing is about writing badly in order to write well:

·     Silence the inner judge

·     Write without stopping

·     No seriously—write without stopping.  (Don’t even pause for spelling or grammar!)

·     Accept gaps (in information) and jumps (in topic)

·     Give yourself a time frame (3-7 minutes)


Special Issues

Never tell a student that a paper is “great,” “sure to get an A,” or “clearly going to pass.” Even if you have had an instructor before and have a sense of how he or she assesses written work, you must never assure a student that a certain grade is imminent. Liability issues can occur as a result of this problem.

Many of you will be required to meet your client in small, peer review groups either in-house or in class. Students are typically placed in groups based on instructor. You will function as a group leader in this case, and may engage in:

  • Discussion of the assignment and the students’ perception of their writing tasks;
  • Reading-based conversations, where you help students understand the readings upon which assignments are based;
  • Peer editing—you can certainly request that students bring drafts with them, and help students critically read each others’ papers.

Focus on the higher level concerns before the lower level concerns if a student is beginning a paper. Students will often be confused with this approach, but just explain that in terms of the hierarchy of issues, Organization, Audience Awareness, and Development are the first tier.

  • If a student is bringing a rough draft to the conference, and does not have particular concerns, begin with the higher level issues, like Thesis/Organization, Development, and Audience issues. See the assessment rubric attached to this handbook.
  • If a student is polishing up a draft, then focus more on grammar, word choice, punctuation, etc. But DO NOT just “correct” the paper; the student should always hold the pen.
  • Read sections of the paper out loud to the student, especially if there are sentence-level problems that the student isn’t “seeing” or catching. Students will often read what they want to see rather than what is actually there. Sometimes students will catch their own errors if they read their papers out loud, too.
  • Demonstrating how to develop paragraphs is a typical exercise; explain what a Topic Sentence is, and then how paragraphs are developed to fulfill the topic sentence. We will have handouts and resources available so that the student can take something home.

Other Responsibilities for Working in the Writing Center

Writing Center work tends to be uneven; the beginning of the semester is particularly slow. Usually after midterm, or after students start to get papers back, the pace picks up.

While tutoring is “slow,” I will have additional jobs for us to do; building the website, developing resources for students, and making photocopies of materials. Also, you might be asked to visit a classroom in order to explain what we do, and what services we offer. Sometimes, you can use “free time” for professional development—reading tutoring materials, etc.


Thank you for providing this invaluable service for the students of Black Hills State! Please don't hesitate to talk to the director or the WCAs about any questions, concerns, or ideas you may have to strengthen our services in the center.