Tips From the Writing Center You Didn’t Even Know You Needed

| December 14, 2016

We sat down with Ben Villarreal, coordinator of the TC Graduate Writing Center, to discuss the services that the Writing Center provides specifically for doctoral students, as well as any tips or advice he might have for students embarking on this demanding and exciting journey.

“When is the most popular time that doctoral students make appointments at the Writing Center?” we asked him.

“The semester of their dissertation defense,” he responded.

“When should doctoral students visit the Writing Center?” we followed up.

“As early as possible in their academic careers,” he said.

The most common misconception students have about the Writing Center is that it is not an editing service; it is an educational service that aims to produce better writers rather than individual better pieces of writing. Because of this, students who frequent the Writing Center early in their academic careers are more likely to build the skills needed to develop their writing so that when a big paper or dissertation comes along, they will already have the writing chops needed to do it well.

Dissertation Writers’ Retreat

The Writing Center also offers specific services for doctoral students, including their dissertation writers’ retreats that occur during every large break in the academic year. At these retreats, students gather each day to brainstorm and write for hours at a time in the same space. Ben mentions that one of the most difficult parts of finishing a big writing project is sticking to a writing routine every day, so having a time and place to gather as a group provides much-needed motivation for many doctoral students. In addition to sharing a writing space, doctoral students at these retreats also get one-on-one advice and personal strategies to continue the flow after the workshop.

Writing Tools

During our conversation, Ben recommended a couple online tools that any writer should know about.

  1. The Most Dangerous Writing App
    This online app is a great tool to use as a writing warm-up to get past that bumpy beginning and dive right into flow writing. The app goes as follows: you must keep writing without more than a 5-second pause for a certain amount of time before you can save your piece; if you stop, you lose and everything gets erased. The stakes are high, which is why Ben does not recommend it for actual essay writing. But as a warm-up? There might be nothing better. (Also, check out with New Learning Times has to say about this app!) 
  2. Mendeley
    Mendeley is an online annotation and referencing/citation tool, and Ben recommends that every academic writer use it. Users can annotate articles online and save them to their personal research library to revisit again and again. In addition, Mendeley provides an easy citation and bibliography creation tool… and anyone who’s written an academic paper knows just how good that sounds.