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Write Right: Behind the scenes at the Writing Center

Bad grammar is all around us. We see it in text messages, Facebook posts, and GroupMe messages. It glares at us from official documents and oversized billboards.

Even in colleges and universities full of people who have written for years, non-standard English wriggles its way into academic essays and other assignments where a misplaced punctuation mark can be deadly.

To solve this, Rollins offers a solution: TJ’s Tutoring and Writing Consulting at Olin Library (also known as the Writing Center). Students vetted for proficiency in the English language put aside time in their week to help their fellow students erase excess verbiage and point out those dangling participles.

I thought this was a terrific idea—until I asked my friends about their take on the Writing Center, how they used it and what their experiences were like. I was horrified to learn that some of them would walk in just to ask a consultant to proofread their paper and sit for an hour as someone else scribbled away at their work.

Saddled with this impression, I had originally intended to write an article about how students abuse the poor Writing Center consultants, assuming that proper English was dead and that English majors were fighting a lost cause to preserve its rotting corpse.

I find myself greatly relieved that this is not the case, as I learned from interviews with the writing consultants.

It turns out that Writing Center clients rarely sit idly during consultations (which would probably be as boring for the students as it would be for the consultants).

Usually, students at the center have a genuine interest in improving their paper, learning to write better, or just making sure they were right about that tricky grammar rule they can never quite remember.

I was even happier to hear the understanding attitude that consultants have toward their clients. Often, they have also struggled with writing, and empathize with their clients’ pain.

“Different people are at different stages of writing ability,” said writing consultant Morgan McConnell ‘17. “I feel that some high schools prepared students to write college papers while others did not, and that is not the student’s fault. If they have specific questions about grammar, I am more than happy to answer them.

“There is no sense in being annoyed with someone who is trying to learn a new skill.”

Though people of varying levels come to TJ’s, consultants tend to see the same types of questions presented at appointments. Correct comma placement is an eternal struggle—an infamous dilemma—even for experienced writers.

Others struggle with clarity and simplifying their ideas.

A fresh set of eyes and a new perspective are invaluable in revising a paper, but between high demand and conflicting schedules, you might not always find time to see a consultant.

Thankfully, that new perspective can be closer than you think; you can always revise your own paper, but give yourself time between the writing and revising to do it correctly.

“Don’t try to edit right after you’ve written it,” writing consultant Kate Stefanski ‘17 recommended.

“Give your mind time to detach from it before you rip it apart.” You may know your own thesis too well to see that the words don’t quite express it until you have had a break.

Bad grammar may be pervasive, but it is also conquerable. Checking grammar requires vigilant effort, but as long as good editors are around, we can turn the tide.

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