University Learning Center

The Writing Lab

The Writing Lab is a space designed for student writers who are independent workers but may have a few questions or want some feedback to a developing draft. We typically staff the Writing Lab with one consultant who must work with any and all students who drop in at the Lab. The fact that the Writing Lab is drop-in and several students might use it at once creates some challenges for consultants and students alike. However, despite these challenges, the Writing Lab provides another level of service that students want and a positive working experience for our writing consultants.

A bit of background: often, before we had a drop-in Writing Lab, students would come in with questions about their writing and there was no one available to answer them. When these students scheduled appointments, they typically only had one or two questions and it was very challenging for both the student and the consultant to make use of a full-hour appointment. Both students and consultants requested a drop-in writing service, and so we opened the Writing Lab.

Most students understand the purpose of the Writing Lab and use it accordingly. However, some students don't understand and they think they can get undivided attention from a consultant just as they would during a Writing Center appointment. Or, all Writing Center appointments are booked so they drop in at the Lab for help. Or, and this is most challenging, they don't think a one-hour appointment is enough and they drop in at the Lab for multiple hours hoping for lengthy and undivided attention from the writing consultant staffing the Lab. Whatever the case may be, following similar practices will help send a consistent message to students about using the Writing Lab. Below are some recommendations:

  1. Try to get to the Lab a few minutes early and check in with the consultant whose shift is ending to find out what is going on with any students working in the Lab.
  2. Write your name on the board and the time that your shift ends / when you'll be leaving.
  3. Greet every student who enters the Writing Lab in a friendly way. If you are working with another student, pause for a minute and greet the new student.
  4. When you first start working with a student, ask them if they've been in the Lab before.
    • If they say yes, then confirm that they understand that you will have to help every student who comes in and that you won't be able to spend unlimited time working with them.
    • If they say no, briefly explain that because the Lab is drop-in you are required to help all students who come in and will not be able to spend unlimited time with them. Also, explain that the Lab is designed for independent writers who may have a few questions as they write, and that you won't be able to provide unlimited one-on-one time with any student.
  5. Work with the student for 10-15 minutes with the primary goal of giving them a specific task to work on. Whether there are other students in the Lab or not, give the student this task* to work on and then excuse yourself, promising to check back shortly. Go help other students or work on something independently. Check back about 10 minutes later, or as soon as you can after helping other students.
  6. Repeat step five as often as necessary.
  7. Use your resources! There are desktops, a white board, handouts, and reference books in the Writing Lab. Encourage students to use these resources as they work.
  8. If a student seems to need undivided attention for some time, strongly encourage them to schedule a Writing Center appointment. You can even help them schedule one using the computers in the Lab.
  9. Plan on staying a few minutes after your shift ends to help the new consultant get up to speed with what each student is working on.


* Here are some task suggestions for students working in the Writing Lab:

  1. Use a highlighter to find your thesis and each supporting point. Check organization and development of support.
  2. Compose an outline of your existing draft ("reverse outline"). Ensure you are covering all points thoroughly in the order that makes the most sense.
  3. Check the draft for patterns of error identified during the initial consultation with the tutor.
  4. Identify each point and further develop your support for this position.
  5. Play "devil's advocate" with your own paper: write a brief opposition paragraph. Think about how to incorporate these ideas into your paper.
  6. Use a citation guide to check your citations.
  7. Use other resources (handouts, websites, manuals) to work on a specific concern. (For example: highlight every comma and use the comma handout to identify how you are using each comma.)
  8. Write a list of specific questions you want to ask the tutor.
  9. Team up with another student in the Lab and read sections of your papers to each other - offer honest feedback!