ND Writing Center offers helping word

Author: Emily Howald '05 and Colleen Ganey '03


Students who go to the Notre Dame Writing Center looking for someone to write a paper for them or rewrite one they’ve started are in for a surprise.

“We don’t write students’ papers for them, edit students’ papers for them, grade student papers, or take the place of the professor,” declares John Duffy, director of the center since its inception in 1999.

What Duffy’s staff of about 30 undergraduate and two graduate-student tutors do is meet with students by appointment for 45 minutes and offer free advice and suggestions. The service has proven popular, as visits to the Writing Center, nuzzled into the second-floor corner of the Coleman-Morse building, have grown from 278 its first year to more than 2,800 last year.

The tutors, who make $7.50 an hour, are nominated by professors for their writing capabilities and positive personalities. Other students bring them writing projects at all stages of completion, from conception to 30 minutes before an assignment is due.

All First-Year Composition courses require freshmen to take at least one paper to the Writing Center. But the center’s clientele includes undergraduates of all levels plus graduate students, law-, medical- and graduate-school applicants, English-as-a-Second-Language students, and even elite students applying for Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall and Mitchell scholarships.

“The misconception is that this is a place where bad writers get their grammar fixed, and that simply isn’t true,” Duffy said. “The aim is to help writers of all abilities, at all ages.”

Maureen Tate, a senior last year, said she visited the writing center to discuss her application for medical school.

“I had something on paper, but it wasn’t to the level that I had hoped. Meeting with a tutor helped me find a focus that my essay was previously lacking. Now I definitely wish I would have used the center previously during my time at ND.”

In addition to face-to-face meetings, students can get late-night advice online. The center has its own Instant Messaging screen name (“writingirish1”). From 10 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday students can use it to converse live with a tutor. The center also sponsors writing workshops and talks by writing faculty.

Junior Phil Milroy said being a tutor is great because he learns so much from the papers he reads.

“Every [First-Year Composition] research paper, history seminar report or business law essay . . . teaches me something I didn’t know before.”