How to get your writing done this semester...
Imagine this: you’re typing away ferociously with the little time left for you to hand in your term paper. It’s due tonight, and although you had three weeks to write it, there were other more important assignments on your plate. It’s not that you didn’t know you had to write this paper too, but you were pretty confident you knew what you wanted to say and could put all of your ideas into words in one afternoon. It is now the afternoon of your paper’s due date. You’re scrambling, fumbling over the keyboard, ideas circling in your head but all of them sounding like a thought vomit on paper. You’re tired, overwhelmed and unable to comprehend your own words. You rush to the SLC for a drop-in session, praying that a Peer Educator can work a miracle and save your grade.
Alas! If Peer Educators were miracle workers, the SLC would be a hotspot of academic sorcery…. but, sadly it is not. The above scenario is not far off from a situation that all SLC Peers see from time to time. To be honest, it pains us not to be able to work miracles for the students; after all, we too are students who have had similar struggles. However, after spending some time as a Writing and Learning Peer, you begin to understand a pattern in good paper writing: organize, strategize, schedule, repeat!
The SLC is here to help you create a good paper from the beginning, and almost every Writing and Learning Peer would agree, the earlier you come in for your assignment, the better you will do! Here is how to make the most out of your writing consultations:
Make multiple appointments and come early!
There is often a misconception among students that a SLC writing consultation should only be availed after writing a draft or after getting feedback on a draft from your professor or TA. If you want to get the most help you can from any Peers, make an appointment the day you get your assignment, and come in for a brainstorm/outlining session. This may sound a little keener-ish, but trust me, bouncing ideas off another person and putting them on paper will give you a better sense of what you need to work on next.
Moreover, when you make an appointment well in advance of your assignment due date, you allow yourself to slowly work through your paper and this alleviates the stress and anxiety around last minute submissions. You can make multiple appointments with the same Peer or others, and progress with them from outlining to thesis development, to structuring your paper, all the way to its flow and conclusion. Again, giving yourself multiple appointments, allows you to chip away at your paper part by part with ample support along the way.
Why you should book a consultation just to brainstorm and outline:
Brainstorming, although a seemingly elementary writing strategy, actually benefits you beyond writing out your ideas. The point at which most students become overwhelmed with their papers, is when all their ideas, and arguments are just in their minds. This is evident to most Peers, because often the papers of such students sound amazing, but the flow of ideas is scattered and makes sense only in certain pockets. Here, the student clearly knows what they want to say, and in their mind, their paper makes perfect sense, but to an outsider the content seems jumbled.
Brainstorming allows you to not only write out your ideas onto paper, but by doing so it allows you to make space in your brain for processing the ideas in a logical sequence. Furthermore, outlining these ideas helps you to see where content may become jumbled. While you could do this on your own, here are some advantages of doing it with a Peer:
- the Peer sits in from the outsider perspective and can offer a fresh pair of eyes
- the Peer can ask you probing questions to better understand your argument and help you situate it in a proper flow.
Having a clear idea of what you want to talk about and how you should structure those thoughts creates a solid base for your writing. From here, it is easier to come back for consultations where you focus on specific goals, rather than asking for overall help.
Research ahead of time!
This is a point I cannot stress enough, because it is one of those rare occasions where a Peer is legitimately limited in helping you!1 One of the areas that Peers are not allowed to help students with is the actual content of their paper. This is because we do not want to influence or bias your original ideas and more importantly, because all the Peers are from different faculties and likely do not know what your paper is truly about. That is why our job is limited to strictly helping with writing.
Of course, we can hear you out and help you structure the flow of the content, but we cannot help you find, develop or change your content. That is why researching is up to you and recommended to be done before you come in for your consultation. By research I mean actual scientific research, but even more broadly, quotes/arguments/passages from books or papers depending on your discipline. The more ideas and content you bring with you, the more we can work with.
Focus on specific goals
One of the main goals of Peer consultations is to help students strengthen their papers, by focusing on key aspects such as an intro, thesis, flow of ideas/arguments, use of research or quotations, and so forth. However, it is nearly impossible to cover all aspects of a paper adequately in 50 mins, let alone 25.2 Often, students want Peers to generally read over their paper to see if the paper “sounds good”. Of course, any paper can sound good, but sounding good alone doesn’t mean the paper meets the assignment criteria in a way that result in a good grade.
Another reason to make multiple appointments, is to allow enough time for you and the Writing and Learning Peer to go over important aspects of a paper in detail, taking the time to talk about why something should change, what would enhance your paper ,and how it should be written. If you don’t have time for multiple appointments, try to think of one or two key areas of focus you want to go over with the Peer. This will help facilitate the time and consultation better, because it will give the Peer a specific goal to work on with you and help them point you towards your next best steps.
Hint: Feedback from your Professor or TA can help you decide what you need to focus on
Towards the end of your writing process, and given multiple consultations, any feedback you receive from your professor or TA on a previous draft or even a previous paper is helpful to decipher what you should focus on. Bring the feedback with you!
Often, errors made in a previous paper in the same class are bound to appear in the second paper. Peers are trained to find the error pattern and match it with the feedback given, so that they can help you avoid those errors again. If the main area of improvement is majority content, the Peer will likely refer you back to your TA or Professor for help with that.
Take notes throughout your consultation
Although a few Peers do this themselves, it is generally a good practice to take pen and paper notes yourself on the parts of your paper that the consultation specifically focused on. If the Peer is helping you structure your paper, perhaps draw out a template of what ideas go in which order. If they point out a grammatical error that is occurring throughout your paper, make a note of what the error is and how to avoid it when you go back to editing your paper.
More often than not, students return for consultations with the same Peer only to focus on the exact same part of the paper. While this is not really a problem (you can, of course, work on an aspect of your paper until you are happy), these students sometimes simply forget what they and the Peer originally worked on. Taking notes by hand allows you to retain what was covered so you won’t lose these points when you edit your paper.
We hope these tips will help you to plan your writing this semester and to get maximum benefit from the Student Learning Commons. Remember that virtual consultations remain available during the summer of remote instruction.
Thank you to Writing and Learning Peer Deeya for these excellent tips.
Magic Wand by b farias from the Noun Project
1. As a general rule, if you ever feel that a Writing and Learning Peer is not helping you the way you expected a “Writing” Peer to help, it is because their goal is not to simply edit what you write. The goal of all the Peers at the SLC is to teach you the relevant skills in your writing area of improvement, so that you become self-sufficient in avoiding certain writing errors and hone your writing style. The SLC is here to support you in being a confident writer, not just a good student.
2. These are the lengths of SLC appointments: a booked 30 minute appointment is actually 25 minutes long. A booked 60 minute appointment is actually 50 minutes long.