September 22, 2020

It is Never Too Late (or Early) to Use the CWR

By Arline Votruba

Like many college students, I had never gone to a writing center during my undergraduate study. That is, until my professor asked me to join the Center as an intern. I had many misconceptions about what it is that a writing center offers to its students. Once I became involved, I wished I had known about the resource sooner. I have since incorporated writing centers into my formal education as a critical component of the research and writing process. If you take nothing more from this blogpost, please know that scheduling an appointment with the CGU Center for Writing and Rhetoric at any point in your research and writing career will help.

I do not say this because I am employed here. Prior to applying to work as a Consultant, I scheduled appointments at the Center to hold myself accountable to my seminar paper writing process and to improve the final projects I produced for each class during my first year of PhD study. Truth be told, there is a reason that the Center for Writing and Rhetoric is a resource baked into your yearly costs of attending CGU. The CWR serves as a (most recently virtual) space where students can enhance their communication skills during one-to-one sessions with fellow students or receive written feedback through our email review option. In either case, the CWR can be seen as a first line of defense against the errors that come from working on a project, often times nonstop, in solitude. Sometimes, we need to hear from somebody outside of our field to realize that the argument we are making is unclear. Other times, working with a consultant from the same discipline can help to further push our considerations in ways that improve our work.

In any case, the CWR is not simply about improving grammar or sentence-level errors. We are not an editing hub and we are not a laundromat for cleaning up papers. Although many consultants are willing to assist in pointing out repeated grammatical errors, more commonly, the appointments are used to assist in the development of ideas. Rhetoric is in the title, not as some ominous intellectual jargon and signpost, but because rhetoric and the art of persuasion are inseparable from the argumentation we do in academia. At the CWR, we help students to see themselves as communicators with an impact. There is an emphasis on developing each student’s voice and working through their project in a way that values what it is the individual has to say. While each consultant has their own style, approach, and expertise, one of the key goals of the CWR is to enhance students’ communication in a way that fosters confidence. We want you to leave the session feeling prepared for your next essay, presentation, or pitch.

Since the CWR is staffed by graduate students, you will always work with someone who is familiar with what you are going through. Sometimes, the nuggets of encouragement and help with a project has less to do with paragraph structure and more to do with the collaborative relationship building that happens in a session. Sure, sometimes a reverse outline can do the trick, but some moments call for a discussion of personal challenges while researching, writing, or developing a project proposal. Instead of feeling like you are working under the instruction of an expert, the CWR consultations provide a collaborative space for brainstorming, drafting, revising, and polishing work. Students can bring their assignment to the CWR at any point in the process.

In addition to offering one-on-one consultations, the CWR is a learning community that values inclusivity. It serves as a collaborative space staffed with student employees who are committed to combatting prejudices in the academy. Cognizant of the ongoing injustices in the US, the staff at the CWR are accustomed to talking about complex cultural issues and developing ways to encourage inclusivity. We aim to be helpful to all of the students we serve. Through a reflective approach to our own development as a Center, we are adamant about improving student access to the resources we offer. It may seem that the CWR is a place where one goes to improve as an individual, but really it offers a larger academic community that relies on the ongoing collaboration and growth of the consultants who work here.

We are not here to teach you how to express yourself, nor do we govern grammar. Instead, we offer nudges in the right direction, ways to develop more tools in your toolkit, and provide a space for working through the process rather than simply reviewing the results. Think of us as a key step in the process of graduate communication practices. We encourage agency in writers and help students to use their own language and secure their voice. Did I say confidence? From seminar papers to job application materials, we are a resource center that offers knowledge based approaches to success and the refinement of an individual’s research and writing process.

Sometimes at the CWR we turn away from the paper or presentation. As a graduate student, sometimes I get stuck in my approach, concerned with my deadlines, or worried about writing toward a particular prompt rather than speaking to a discussion in which I have something important to say. As a student, the most effective sessions I have attended involved my consultant redirecting me to develop my work to represent my own contributions, ideas, and thoughtful inquiry rather than regurgitating the cookie cutter model of what I assumed that the instructor wanted to hear. Each student will experience the CWR differently, because each student has different goals, strengths, and hardships. However, each student can gain knowledge about their communication, individual strategies for enhancing their process, and how to maintain their voice in their pursuit of an academic degree. The CWR is a great sounding board and collaborative tool along the process of self-discovery and personal development. One would be remiss to avoid using this resource while paying for it as a CGU student.