University Learning Center


Writing Services offers Online Writing & Learning (OWL) to the entire university community. The OWL includes several electronic resources available through our website (you should become familiar with these resources). These resources include PDFs of our handouts, additional writing and style guides, and links to other writing-assistance websites. However, by far the most popular OWL resources is our online paper consultation program.

Our online consulting option is modeled on asynchronous OWLs across the country at other schools. Students fill out a web-form on the Writing Services' website, upload their paper, and submit the form. We assign all OWL submissions on a daily basis, selecting the next available appointment time on the next day (so you get 24-hours notice). Some students think the OWL is faster than a face-to-face consultation - that isn't true.

Online consultation is very different from face-to-face consultation: you will not meet the student, be able to talk with the student, or rely on any cues of expression or tone. However, the form asks the student to provide guiding questions for your response. Remember that the online consultation option is not meant to be a replacement for the traditional face-to-face consultation - many things can be addressed and accomplished face-to-face that cannot online. However, this option will allow students to receive specific kinds of responses to their papers and will hopefully demonstrate the benefit of utilizing Writing Services to a broader population of students (especially students who cannot utilize our services due to conflicts with our hours). Students who want a more traditional consultation experience online should schedule a Zoom appointment. 

Additionally, a consultant writing to students about their writing provides you with a unique opportunity to model effective writing and provide a more lasting response than students might get in a face-to-face consultation. Students in face-to-face consultations do not take notes on every idea or suggestion that comes up during a session; in writing to a student paper, though, the student receives a 'permanent' written record of your reader's response. This written text is something they can refer to at any time during their revision process, something they can show other readers (whether peers or instructors), and something they can reply to for further response from us in Writing Services.

Of utmost importance in responding to student writing on-line (and in writing) is to avoid doing (or even the appearance of doing) the writing for the student and/or making corrections to the paper. Always use Word's comment function to respond to the draft. NEVER make changes directly to the main text of the draft.*

How to respond to an online submission

  1. When you are assigned an online consultation it will show up on your TutorTrac schedule.
  2. You will need to set-up your access to the OWL mail folder through OWA. See these instructions
  3. OWLs can only be done during your regular scheduled appointment time, in the ULC, on the Writing Services laptops.
  4. Open the message, read the student request, and open the uploaded document.
  5. Use Word's Comment function to reply to the draft and specifically address the student's concerns.
  6. Save the draft with your comments to the flash drive with the file name: "full student name - your first name - date" (date format = 011008), i.e. Jane Doe - Will - 082212. Close the document.
  7. E-mail the student using the 'From' field to input the folder name 'owl' and attach the draft with your comments.
  8. In this e-mail, give the student an overview of your response to the paper (what works well, what needs work), tell them to see the attached document for more specific comments, and tell them whether you think they should come in for a face-to-face consultation.
  9. Send the message.
  10. Copy and paste your e-mail comments into TutorTrac's visit notes field for the appointment.

The Writing Process

*Here are some suggestions for responding to OWLs:

  1. Be friendly! Though you are not meeting directly with the student, think about the tone of your comments and e-mail.
  2. Limit your comments! Try not to put more than 3-4 comments per page. Too many comments can overwhelm a student.
  3. Use online resources! Though you cannot edit or make corrections, you can help students identify problems (i.e. make the following comment: "This sentence contains a comma-splice. Here is a link to a hand-out that describes comma-splices and how to correct them." Then, paste the link to our comma splice handout.)
  4. Pose a lot of questions! Even though you cannot engage the student in a conversation about their paper, you can give them questions to help them think about their draft and prompt them to reconsider development, organization, focus, etc.
  5. Cut and paste the student's questions directly into the word document and respond to them there, at either the beginning or end of the paper.
  6. Say something positive in the e-mail to the student. Tell them what is working well in the paper as well as a general thing to work on, and let them know there are more specific comments in the attachment.