New Writing Resource Offered for Grad Students

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Like many Boston College graduate students, Julie Cecil does not have a whole lot of time on her hands between fulfilling study and work demands - and even less when she has a research paper due.

So Cecil, who is pursuing a master's degree in higher education, was quite happy to discover the Grad Student Writers' Block, a World Wide Web site maintained by the Academic Development Center and College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program.

The six-week-old site []is BC's version of the On-line Writing Labs, or OWLS, writing assistance service model that is increasingly popular among colleges and universities. Graduate students submit their papers electronically, and they are read and evaluated by other master's or doctoral students. The Writers' Block currently utilizes four tutors.

But BC administrators, like the Web site itself, emphasize that Writers' Block is not a "quick-fix" editing service through which harried students can polish up research papers hours before deadline. It is, the site's organizers say, a way for students to reflect on the process of writing, and to consider how the work they have done thus far applies to their original project.

"We're stressing the idea that writing is not a solitary process, but a conversation," said Academic Development Center Director Suzanne Barrett. "What are you trying to accomplish? What do you like, and not like, about what you've done? It can be an enormous asset to have someone help you answer those questions."

Cecil, one of 10 students to have used the service, agrees. "I could have had someone look at my papers and edit them. But I found it very helpful to have a person from outside my field of expertise detail for me what they found clear or unclear about my writing. The experience gave me a good frame of reference."

A&S Honors Program Adj. Assoc. Prof. Timothy Duket, who worked with Barrett to launch the site, points out that some graduate students may be "out of practice" when it comes to writing research papers - or have always found the task a difficult one.

"Writers' Block helps serve an important University-wide need, which is to provide support to our graduate students," said Duket. "Because it utilizes the Web and e-mail, it's convenient for both the tutor and the user, and either one can do their work literally any time of the day or night."

Where some colleges and universities attach OWLS to their English departments, Barrett and Duket say, BC's seeks to utilize graduate student tutors from different disciplines. The four current Writers' Block tutors are pursuing degrees in English, political science, social work and management.

"No matter what your field is, you should be able to explain the premise of your research paper or dissertation so that anyone can understand it," said Barrett, who noted that tutors are paid and receive training.

Barrett and Duket say they hope to make faculty aware of the Writers' Block site, so they will steer their students to it.

"We also want to be sure students submit their papers through the Web site, instead of directly to an individual tutor," added Duket. "The initial questions posed on the submission form are a key part of beginning the process. Hopefully, they will aid in establishing a good working rapport between the student and tutor."


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