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UWC Clients and Their Texts: Who We Help

UWC consultants help JMU student writers with all types of academic and non-academic writing: course assignments from all JMU disciplines, personal statements, cover letters, scholarship applications, articles for publication, theses and dissertations, creative writing, and other writing projects. We also work with JMU facultyandstaff with their academic and non-academic writing projects, and we assist faculty in designing effective assignments and responding to student writing. 

Addressing Objectives/Meeting Expectations

Honor the objectives that writers affirm in their session request forms and/or during sessions. We should address a writer’s request that we focus on later order concerns—"grammar" or "citations"—even if we notice more global opportunities/concerns.

It’s a good idea to mention the possibility of higher order concerns early in the session. If you then notice higher order concerns later in the session, you can try playing the role of an outside reader. After you ask the client about addressing higher order concerns, and after the client passes on this great opportunity, you should focus more specifically on the client's concerns. 

Helping Writers Experiencing Stress and Distress

"Seeking academic help is often a way that students can safely name their distress.
Peer educators don't always feel equipped to handle students experiencing distress in a session."
 – Kristen Shrewsbury

A degree of stress is normal. Sometimes, though, the intensity of a UWC session can bring academic or non-academic stressors to the fore. In other cases, UWC visitors might choose to disclose or reveal distress through their speech, writing, or behavior. They may express distress in different ways:

  • Freeze: they may shut down during the session (just coming to the UWC may have been a big accomplishment). Despite their best intentions, they may have difficulty focusing or understanding/acting on advice; they may express (or you may sense) paralyzing doubt or indecision about their work or other academic and non-academic concerns; they may express hopelessness and despair.
  • Flee: they may talk rapidly or seem restless, tense, or fidgety (often with nervous or quivering legs). They may not register or respond to the reactions of the people around them (starting with you); they may disconnect or withdraw during the session (physically or emotionally); they may talk about not turning the paper in at all, not going to class, or needing to just get home
  • Fight: they may express deep frustration (perhaps returning to the same concern repeatedly); they may offer responses that seem out of proportion with the topic at hand; they may argue or become angry (perhaps directing the anger at you, because you are handy and won't bite)

The rapport we work to establish in all of our sessions becomes even more important when writers show signs of distress. Favor "connecting" language over "isolating" language:

  • Connecting Language

"This is hard"
"You are not alone in this"
"You came in and we can work on this right now, together"
"This is intense. Let me grab someone who can better help us.”

  • Isolating Language

"You should have…"
"Have you…?"
"Why haven’t you…?"
"I can’t imagine waiting this long…"

The "Connecting Language" above offers starting points for strategies for helping writers who disclose or experience distress:

  • Tend and Mend
  • Listen: a sympathetic ear and a few inviting, open-ended phrases can unlock doors
  • Validate the emotions that the writer shares: the situation/concept/effort/assignment is challenging, and you know that others have found/are finding it challenging
  • Affirm that it was a good decision to seek help: the writer was right to come to the UWC, and you are ready, willing, and able to assist.
  • Repeat: spend time here, resisting the temptation to offer quick advice, however well-meant, reasonable, and good that advice may be
  • Help the writer to focus on the work at hand
  • Act locally: making tangible headway in one task can make everything else seem more manageable
  • Use open-ended language: enable  the writer to talk and in turn to assert a degree of control over the situation with language that invites responses:
  • "Tell me about your paper/your concerns"
  • "What else could you do here?"
  • "What do you think would happen if you moved this/started here?"
  • "Is there another way to say this or order this?"
  • Be flexible: try switching things up, perhaps volunteering to take notes or to type what the writer says
  • Create a plan: an outline, an ordered series of manageable steps, a strategy, or resources to consult
  • Use your resources/consider the bigger picture
  • Remember your boundaries and your limitations in terms of your role and your time: our job—and our human impulse—is to help, but we shouldn't over-promise or over-function, nor should we feel guilt when we can't make everything better    
  • Clear the air: "This isn't productive. I'll take a minute, you take a minute, and we'll try again in a moment."
  • Involve/reach out to a fellow consultant (ANY fellow consultant, whether already in another session or not): you're not confessing incompetence, you're not giving up, you're not deferring to authority, and you're not ganging up on the writer; instead, you're trying a new tactic: a fresh set of ears, a reset on the situation, a different dynamic
  • Help the writer to identify other campus resources. You're not saying "You need professional help"; rather, you're helping the writer to know about the options: "I know we have offices on campus that can help with any situation." With the writer, you can check out JMU's Campus Resources page (just type "campus resources" into the JMU site's search bar).
  • Ask for input from a UWC faculty member: if you're uncomfortable or concerned (for the writer or for yourself), don't ignore the issue and don't wait until after the session
  • After the session
  • Process what you heard, saw, and did through conversations with your fellow consultants
  • Share your session report and your impressions with Jared
Helping with Résumés 

We should refer writers who ask for help with résumés—particularly résumé strategy and formatting—to the Career and Academic Planning Office on the 3rd floor of the Student Success Center (https://www.jmu.edu/cap/).

This said, clients often come to the UWC with a stack of application materials: résumés, cover letters, personal statements, and other application essays. You can certainly look at clients' résumés as you help them to craft these overlapping texts. And if a client brings in a cover letter and then asks for help in editing a résumé or curriculum vitae (CV) for clarity and concision, you can certainly lend your trained consultant eyes. 

LGBTQIQA+ Awareness and Tutoring
    • Crisis Intervention: Infographic with campus, state, and national resources, statistics and risk factors, and a page of sources
    • Microagressions: Infographic detailing instances and impacts of intentional and unintentional statements and behaviors against individuals with marginalized or oppressed identities
    • Gender Unicorn: Infographic sharing the diversity of gender identities, gender expressions, sex assigned at birth, physical attractions, and emotional attractions
    • Gender Pronouns: Infographic charting the growing number of options for gender pronouns, stressing the importance of asking individuals regarding their preferred pronouns

For more information, contact the JMU Health Center's LGBTQ and Ally Education Program. Chris Ehrhart with the LGBTQ and Ally Program shared the resources above after our February 3, 2017, all-staff meeting on LGBTQIQA+ awareness and tutoring.

Common UWC Assignments

Some General Education courses feature common assignments that we see year after year in the UWC. We also see clients coming in with similar questions and concerns.

The resources below outline the assignments, the concerns that UWC clients and consultants commonly identify, and tried and tested strategies and questions that UWC consultants have used in the past.

Sample prompts for some of these assignments are available in the UWC's Canvas site under "Common UWC Assignment Prompts."   

Working with Groups of Writers and Group-Written Papers 

In both one-to-one sessions and group sessions, we prefer to work with writers on their own writing. In an ideal session, we help with the writing produced by clients who are physically present for the session. If a client wrote only Section A, we would not work on Sections B and C with that client. However, in some group writing assignments, one or two members are assigned to serve as editors for the whole paper. In these cases, we can help the editors to more effectively edit the paper. 

A useful technique when working with a group of writers is to have everyone read through parts of the paper at the same time. If you know you’re working with a group and want to suggest this option, ask for help in getting the paper up on one of the UWC’s big flat screen monitors.

Writing groups are usually concerned that their different sections read like one cohesive document. As the writers read through sections during a session, they often note and address content and style inconsistencies between sections. Your outside reader responses—"I’m confused about…"—can help them identify connections between topics and add concepts or key word transitions to bring separately written parts together. You can also help writers to notice discrepancies in terminology or information and inconsistencies like capitalization or abbreviations.

Writing groups might look to you for help in resolving their differences regarding grammar, punctuation, and style. Where you can't readily supply answers, you can point them toward resources and can suggest that they consult appropriate discipline-specific models as they make their decisions.

ONLINE group sessions: WCOnline isn't set up for online group sessions. If a client indicates that other group members would like to participate in the session, you can paste your Webex personal room address into the WCOnline chat for the client to share with the rest of the group. You might then suggest that the group use Webex's "Share Screen" function to share their draft. Check out the UWC's Online Consulting Roadmap page for more help.

Fulbright and Gilman Scholarship Consulting

Fulbright Scholarship consulting: here's the most recent "Tips for Consulting on Fulbright Statement Applications" PowerPoint (last updated 9/23/2020).

Gilman Scholarship consulting: here's the most recent "Gilman Essay Review Guide" document (last updated 9/23/2020).

Working with ROTC Writers: Writing in the Army Style

JMU's ROTC writers should be familiar with the "Writing in the Army Style"  PowerPoint (page 5 offers an overview of key writing concerns). This much longer "Student Readings" file includes very specific Army Regulations for writing and formatting documents, models for reports and correspondence, and Federal Plain Language Guidelines (an extended style guide).

Library Resources
  • JMU Libraries Homepage
    • Quick Search: this search engine searches through most of the databases JMU Libraries own or subscribe to. Conduct your search by typing your search terms into the text box at the top of the library home page.
    • Complete List of Databases
    • Research Guides
    • JMU Liaison LibrariansA liaison librarian is assigned to each academic program to ensure that library services and collections meet the needs of the students and faculty. Use this link to help JMU writers schedule an appointment with a liaison librarian.
  • Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
  • Reasons to Use the JMU Libraries' Databases and Book Collections
    • Scholarly articles or books
      • Scholarly articles are peer-reviewed by experts in the specific field.
      • Books that are scholarly in nature have been vetted by professional editors and are extensively sourced and footnoted.
      • Not all books are created equal: learn about the credentials of the book’s author(s) and publishers. (See the “Evaluating Sources” link below.)
    • (as opposed to) Google
      • Google is geared toward sites that sell products; that is primarily how Google makes money ... through its search engine.
      • Amateur, unverified, or otherwise un-scholarly resources often appear near among the top hits in a Google search.
      (and as opposed to) Wikipedia
      • Wikipedia is a user content-created platform.
      • It is a reference source, and is meant to be introductory, not analytical, in nature.
      • Wikipedia pages can be modified by anybody with an account, rendering them unstable and potentially unreliable.
  • Search Tips: tips on identifying different search terms (keywords) to help find relevant sources as well as how to use Boolean operators.
  • Evaluating Sources: not all sources are created equal, and this link offers help in evaluating whether a source is adequate for the research paper or project a client is working on. You might also point clients toward the "Evaluating Online Resources" page in the UWC's "Writing Guides and Handouts" site.
  • JMU Libraries Citing Sources home: a one-stop shop for JMU Libraries' APA, Chicago/Turabian, MLA, and discipline-specific citation guides, as well as citation tools (RefWorks, Zotero, and Mendeley).
Online Consulting 

Need a refresher on online consulting. Never consulted online before? Start here: The UWC Online Consulting Roadmap.

Walk-in Consulting and Filing "Off-Schedule" Reports 

Fall 2020 (Covid-19): Clients may sign up for a session just before or even just after each 30-minute block begins. Remember to refresh your WCOnline screen frequently.

________  

If your scheduled session ends early or if you don't have a scheduled session, be prepared to help clients who walk in to the UWC. If you aren't working with a client, sit near the UWC walk-in table—the table visible from the front desk, just to the right on the main floor—and face the front door so that you can see new arrivers.

Greet new arrivers warmly. If they need writing help, ask whether they have registered with the UWC in WC Online. You should tell all walk-in visitors where you are in your shift, where you are in your current session, whether anyone else is waiting, and what their chances are of working with a consultant this hour. If prospects look bleak, suggest that they try to reserve an appointment through the UWC scheduler.

  1. Ask the new arrivers to register in WC Online if they haven't done so already AND to sign up on the paper sign-in sheet next to the walk-in computer before directing them to wait at the walk-in table.
  2. After you finish a session—and write your session report—consult the sign-in sheet and check out the walk-in table.
  3. Each time you begin a walk-in session, write your initials on the paper sign-in sheet next to the client's name to let other consultants know who is next on the list.
  4. Complete a session report for every walk-in session, no matter how long or how short it may have been.

If your hour on the scheduler was open, click on the hour and fill out the appointment request form with the student as you would normally before starting the session. If this is your second session during the hour, you'll need to fill out a "Off-Schedule Client Report Form." Click on the little paper icon under your name in the upper left corner of the WC Online main screen, scroll down the client's name, enter the appropriate day and time range, and then scroll down to your name as the tutor of record. Fill out the form as you would normally, remembering that it's a good idea to make notes for yourself at the beginning of the session regarding the walk-in student's particulars—the course, professor, and due date—as this information won't show up elsewhere.

Total Sessions Allowed Each Week and Each Day

Fall 2020 (Covid-19): With the option for 30-minute sessions, clients may schedule two non-consecutive sessions each day for up to 90 total minutes. We've done away with the limit on sessions per week for now, but let Jared know if a client begins monopolizing you or the UWC.

______  

Students may make up to three appointments each week using WC Online. After that, we can help them on a walk-in basis (if you've already had a session during the hour, use the "Off-Schedule Client Report Form"—see "Walk-in Consulting" above—to record the session; if you have an open hour in WC Online, and if this is the student's fourth visit, you'll need to use your own account to make the appointment for the student. Just click on your open hour and change the client name).

Students may make up to two appointments for a single day using WC Online.

WC Online is set to prevent students from scheduling two sessions in a row, and you shouldn't use your WC Online powers to circumvent this policy. We want to avoid cognitive overload for both writers and consultants, and we want to foster learning, rather than dependency. Ideally, the writer will take an hour or more between sessions to process the consultation, to apply the learning, or to substantially revise his/her work. 

Reasons for two sessions in a single day

      • "Getting through all of the paper"
      • Shopping around for a tutor who will do the work
      • Two distinct purposes: two different stages in the writing process, or two different papers
      • A new question about the same paper—perhaps prompted by the first UWC session
      • An exceptionally long paper which requires time to introduce and assess

Best practices (in all cases, but especially here)

      • If you know a client will be returning later in the day, work to establish a to-do list and to identify resources
      • Be quick and specific in filing your session report
      • If you know a client is returning for second session in a single day, read the earlier session report and then ask about the earlier session: what it focused on, how it worked, how the paper has changed in the interim...
"Proof of Visit" Slips

 

The UWC green proof-of-visit slips that some professors require are available at the front desk. Instead of worrying whether a client "deserves" a green slip based on investment or engagement, simply register on the slip how long the session lasted. Use a pen when you fill out the form and then circle/initial the length of the session.

Fall 2020 (Covid-19): At the end of online sessions, you have a couple of options:

  • In WCOnline, you can type a sentence like this into the chat: “I certify that Jeff Smith participated in a 40-minute UWC consultation on May 23, 2020.” Your client can then take a screenshot (Mac - shift+command+4) or print their screen (PC - PrtScn). You can use the same approach if you're working in Webex with a single client or a group of clients.
  • If your client indicates reservations here, you can promise to supply the required proof in an email. Here, you can opt to send an email to Jared attesting to the participants, the date and time of the session, and its duration (e.g. "Jeff Smith and Alice Jones participated with UWC Consultant Jenna Adams in a 30-minute online UWC consultation on September 24, 2020"). Remember to include all participating clients' email addresses in your email to Jared.

Note that clients who seem focused on securing a green slip might benefit from knowing a bit more about what we do and what we offer in the UWC:

    • You can remind clients about our UWC mission, vision, and values. You can even consult the Mission, Vision, and Values page on the UWC website.
    • If they insist on focusing on surface issues like punctuation or formatting, that is their right. However, you can note that you still need to understand the purpose, audience, and context for this piece of writing if you are going to give them effective advice.
    • Suggest using the prompt as a way to gauge the paper's content, organization, and other choices. If nothing else, students want to please the professor and get a good grade. Prompts and rubrics can allow you to address the most pressing issues of the paper.
Non-Clients Studying in the UWC

The UWC is NOT a study space. Students who do not have a UWC appointment or who are not seeking writing help cannot use the UWC space. Even if we are not busy, please inform students looking to set up camp that the UWC is a private consulting space reserved at all times for UWC clients, consultants, and Learning Centers staff. You can point out the front booths as an alternative. If students argue or wish to complain, please inform a UWC faculty member. If no UWC faculty member is present, speak with Adrienne, Joan, or Laura.  

If you complete a consultation with a client and the client would like to stay in the UWC to revise, that is totally fine. If a client shows up early to finish drafting before a session, that is also fine.

As a benefit of employment, UWC consultants are free to use the UWC space for quiet study whenever it is open. 

Academic Integrity Concerns

Final Papers and Take-home exams 

UWC policy is that we are not the Honor Police. It is up to clients to determine whether they are able to receive help. It's best for clients to check with their professors before coming, but we will not turn them away unless the prompt explicitly states, "You can't receive any help on this paper." We recommend that consultants ask the following questions at the beginning of these sessions: 

"Is this a final paper/take-home exam for your class?" (or, if the session request form/prompt indicates that this is the case, "I notice that this is a final paper for your class.") "Are you allowed to receive help on this paper? Did your professor say so?" 

"Not sure? Okay. We can still work together, but we will have to stick to basic clarity and organization." 

In sum, the client might not know, but we have covered our responsibility by asking and by affirming. You are not responsible for a client's lapse in judgement. In these sessions, be extra mindful about not supplying ideas or any type of content. Focusing on clarity and organization is always a safe route.  

Plagiarism 

We are also not the Plagiarism Police. However, we are allies to our clients, so we need to make them aware of writing choices that might get them into trouble. Here are a few situations that might arise.  

Paper writing service/ghost writer 

For the most part, we don't see students who are buying papers or having someone else write the entire paper. But it has happened. You might recognize this issue if a student seems particularly clueless about the content of the paper, has no idea what words in the paper mean (advanced or technical vocabulary), or has strange lapses/elevations in style or vocabulary level. Please do not accuse a student. A professional and tactful response might be to simply report what you are noticing: 

Consultant: "I'm noticing that the style and vocabulary changes abruptly right here and here in your paper. I'm wondering why that happens. Can you tell me about your writing process?" 

Client: "Well, um, I got some help on this paper."  

Consultant: "You should be really careful about that. That's probably considered plagiarism. I wouldn't want you to lose points or even fail a paper." 

Citation confusion 

Most "plagiarism" is probably unintentional, a problem that results from one or more of the following situations: 

  1. clients are unsure about how to paraphrase and summarize source material 
  2. because they read it right before writing and/or used complex academic articles, the clients didn't fully understand the source material and, therefore, have trouble putting the source material into their own words 
  3. the clients come from cultures in which citation is not necessary, ideas are not "owned," and/or academic concerns about intellectual property don't quite make sense to them 

We prefer to address these as learning issues, not law-breaking: 

Consultant: "I'm noticing that the style/language changes in this sentence. Is this language in the source?" 

Client: "Maybe." 

Consultant: "If it is, you'll want to be sure to avoid borrowing language from the source without quoting. In either case, you'll need an in-text citation and a listing in your references/works cited section." 

Client: "Oh. I didn't realize we had to be that careful. The article was really tough to understand." 

Consultant: "Well, we can talk about some critical reading strategies and ways to help you digest the material well enough to use your own words."

Requests for Private Tutoring or Editing services 
  1. If clients ask you to tutor them privately for money (or food or gold), you should politely refuse. You can say that doing so is against UWC employee policy (it is!). The same goes for editing requests. We train clients to edit. We collaborate as they edit. We do not edit independently. Indeed, doing so may constitute one or more violations of the JMU Honor Code (e.g., if the student is being evaluated on his or her grammar and punctuation, and if someone else does the editing, the JMU Honor Code comes into play). You might point this out to the student. 
  2. Clients may also ask if we can refer them to a professional editor. Send those requests to the writing center director. We often do have professional editors in the community we can contact. We do this only if the student has explicit permission from a professor or committee.
Illness Policy
    1. Do not be a hero, and don't wait to see if you will feel better in an hour. In other words, work to get better instead of spending an hour sharing the same space/air with your UWC writer(s).
    2. If you know you are sick, send an email as soon as possible to Jared, Rudy, Joan, and Adrienne (feathejj@jmu.edu, barretrl @jmu.edu, griggsae@jmu.edu, fahrnejb@jmu.edu).
    3. If your shift is imminent, send the email and call the UWC, instead of sharing the news in person. Jared's number is 540-568-6967; Rudy's number is 540-568-2986; Adrienne's number is 540-568-1683; Joan's number is 540-568-2932.
    4. Jared does not need proof of illness because he trusts that no employee he has hired would give a false report of illness. 
    5. Please delay your return until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours and you are not frequently coughing, sneezing, or otherwise contagious. Again, don't be a hero.
Missing a Shift (Planning Ahead)
    1. You may miss up to three consulting hours during the semester for personal leave. You don't need to provide a reason, and the UWC will not ask you for a reason, but you do need to let Jared and Rudy know at least two weeks ahead of time.
    2. You do not have to use personal leave for official religious obligations, class-related obligations (like required attendance at an event), or job interviews. 
    3. Shifts missed due to illness do NOT count against your 3-hour personal leave allowance (scroll just above for the UWC Illness Policy).
    4. You may NOT miss professional development meetings for personal reasons. Please do not request to miss those hours. 
    5. Please don't feel that you must take a shift off.
Emergencies (and Placeholders)

An emergency or illness means you will not be able to make your consulting shift. The UWC is closed, there's no one answering the Learning Centers phone, and you want to get ahead of potential problems as best you can. Here's what to do: UWC Sunday Emergencies/Illnesses Directions

Inclement Weather Policy
    • If JMU is closed or delayed, the University Writing Center is also closed or delayed. 
    • If JMU is not closed but bad weather is creating unsafe conditions for you to get to your shift, we can cancel your hours. Just email (and perhaps text) Jared and Joan as early as possible.
    • If you are working a UWC shift, bad weather is upon us, and you feel that you need to leave before the end of your shift in order to get home safely, you may do so (even if JMU has been slow to officially close). Just talk to or email/text Jared and Joan, so that we can block off the schedule and/or inform clients.
UWC Session Observation Forms

Use this Qualtrics UWC Session Observation Form to file your session observations. Remember to review your responses before you click on the last set of >>. After you click on that last set of >>, you'll be prompted to print or download a .pdf file of the form you just completed (since session observations should be formative—immediately useful learning opportunities for both parties—you might share the file with the consultant you observed). After you've printed and/or downloaded, don't forget to actually submit your observation form to Qualtrics. Here's a printer-friendly 2-page version of the observation form for use before and during your session observations.

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