I am currently a doctoral student and so I’m writing my doctoral dissertation, a long work that will eventually comprise multiple chapters. I decided that I wanted to take the chapter I’m currently working on over to the University of Maine Writing Center. Writing is hard work, even for good writers. Having a second set of eyes read over your work can only help. Someone else can bring a different perspective to the content and is likely to see things in the writing that you might not. Having previously worked with a graduate student in English who focused on Composition and Rhetoric, I had every faith in their ability to help me grow as a writer.
The first thing I did was go to their website and check out the FAQ. There I learned that they offer hour long appointments; that I would be working collaboratively with a Writing Center tutor; that they will help at any stage of the writing process, from the note and outline stage to the final draft; that each of the tutors are hand-picked and have taken ENG 395 in preparation for their position as a tutor. All this looked good, so I decided to schedule an appointment.
The Writing Center utilizes an online scheduling tool to make picking a time and tutor easy. First I had to create an account, so I went to the account creation page. They wanted some basic information: my name, where I am at in my program, and a password. Easy enough. I was then able to use their online booking system. I clicked on that link, signed in, and saw a weekly calendar, with the names of the tutors who were available on each given day with their availability. Here’s a sample screen shot:
The white blocks mean that time is open, blue means it’s booked, and it shows yellow for a time that you have already reserved. But with all the available tutors, I wanted to check out which tutor I could work with.
One of the pages in their site is About the Tutors. This page gives a brief bio of each of the tutors, allowing you to decide if any particular tutor would work best with what you’re doing. Though they are all well trained, personality is still important. Looking through the bios, I found that the majority are English majors or are double majoring, with English as one of the two. Not surprising, really. Being that I am working on my dissertation, I decided that I would start by meeting with the Tutor Coordinator, Megan Bishop, who is a graduate student studying Composition and Rhetoric. I went back to the schedule, found a time with Megan that fit, and I was ready to go.
The day of the appointment came and I showed up with 25 pages. Not quite the entire chapter, but I figured more than enough. Turns out I was right, but we’ll get to that later. The Writing Center is on the fourth floor of Neville Hall, and I got there a few minutes early. I was warmly greeted by one of the other tutors and was told that Megan would arrive shortly. She did and we got started.
To begin with, she asked me about my project, asking specific questions about the overarching dissertation topic, about the subject of this specific chapter, and about specific concepts that I address throughout the dissertation, including in this chapter. Let me just add here that over time a dissertation topic will naturally evolve, and what you start with is rarely what you end with. Thus having to articulate the topic and the different concepts to a non-historian forced me to clarify for myself exactly what I’m working on. I had to be specific and not use technical jargon. This allowed me to frame the topic in a way I hadn’t previously and which brought it into focus.
Once Megan had a handle on the topic, she had me read the paper aloud for about 20-25 minutes, about 12-13 pages worth. She instructed me to listen to what I was reading, paying attention to the flow and to make notes of any places that felt awkward. Reading aloud is something I’ve done for years, but reading to another individual made me hyper-sensitive to the flow of words and sentences and to areas of the paper that were, perhaps, a bit off-topic. All the time I was reading, she was also taking notes that she referred back to in our subsequent discussion.
After I finished reading, Megan provided some initial feedback (such as: I tend to use long, complex sentences with numerous clauses) and then asked that I go through each paragraph and put a note in the margin stating what each paragraph was about. The point of this was to see how each paragraph led into the next. This also would point out any extraneous paragraphs that might have interesting information but that may not contribute to the overall thesis of the paper. However, before we got going on the paragraph notes, we ended up discussing the thesis of the paper and how I articulated it in the first paragraph. Megan and I then spent quite a bit of time going over the wording of the thesis sentences, making sure that it clearly conveyed to the reader exactly what I was trying to convey.
As our meeting was drawing to a close, Megan made it very clear that I was welcome to come in as often as I’d like to discuss my writing; weekly was fine, as was twice a week or even more. Megan had mentioned that the schedule for the week tended to be open on Monday mornings, but by Tuesday midday it would be mostly full. Sure enough, when I looked at the schedule on Tuesday afternoon it was almost entirely full.
I was completely satisfied with my visit to the Writing Center. The entire experience was very welcoming. Everyone was warm and helpful. I gained excellent feedback on my work and also learned effective methods to incorporate into my own writing routine to make my writing stronger. Needless to say, I scheduled meetings with Megan out through the end of the semester and I look forward to more input.