Writing Centre helps students of all levels

From beginning writers to experienced authors, everyone at UPEI can use a helping hand with their writing through the Writing Centre

by Everton McLean

Settled at a desk in the middle of a well-lit room in the Robertson Library, Damilola (Dami) Emmanuel reads over some notes in a notebook. The third-year business student has papers to write and he's here, at the UPEI Writing Centre, for help.

Dami, an international student from Nigeria, started going to the centre during his first semester at UPEI, following a presentation from a tutor to his UPEI 101 class.  

“My writing wasn’t really good. I was pretty much terrified (of university writing),” he said. 

He started bringing work to the writing centre, and before long he was seeing improvements.

"I would see a lot of corrections," he said. "At first, when an instructor would ask me, ‘What is wrong with that sentence?' I wouldn't be able to answer, But as time went on I became a better editor of my own work."

His writing has continued to advance, to the point where he was awarded a MacLachlan Prize for Effective writing in 2016, and in 2017 he had an article published in the UPEI Arts Review. 

For Dr. Robin Sutherland, the director of the Writing Centre, Dami’s story is what the program she runs is all about.

"The writing centre is here to help students with any part of the writing process, and any kind of writing. We have appointments that look at the grammatical and sentence structure aspects of the paper."

Thesis statements, outlines, formatting, creative writing: tutors help with all of it. 

And, importantly, the centre is not just for those writers who need a bit of a boost to perform at an academic level. It’s for everyone who writes at the university level.

"My mandate has been to try to broaden the service to help remedial writers as well as more accomplished writers," said Dr. Sutherland. "I always found it a bit of a mystery that we would take writing and push it into a closet and treat it like a remedial service when everyone on campus is  here by virtue of our writing skills." 

For Collin Dares, the centre has helped him focus on what it means to write well.

The first year bachelor of paramedicine student said when he first came to the centre, his view on writing was more is better. As a mature student and a practising paramedic, he had been out of school for almost 10 years before starting at UPEI. 

"Naturally I felt like when I wrote it was a little bit exaggerated. I guess I thought more words meant more information and made me sound smarter," he said. "But really I think now that it's quite the opposite -- the more briefly you can sum up a topic, I think that's more a reflection of expertise."

Collin worked with several tutors at the centre and clicked with one in particular, whom he goes back to regularly to brush up his work. He has no hesitation in using the Writing Centre's support to improve his writing.

“They were very welcoming and it’s easy to sign up,” Collin said. “I feel like if you are looking to improve your writing, that’s more a reflections that you are a good writer.”

Grace Gibson, a student teacher at the centre, has been helping fellow students with their papers and assignments for three years. She said students who take advantage of the service aren’t guaranteed an A or a high grade, but they usually see significant improvements. Students take the tips they receive and the tools they acquire through sitting with a tutor in the centre with them throughout their academic career.   

“Really it’s the most rewarding part of the job when a student comes back and says ‘I did really well on this test’ or ‘I’ve got an A’ or a 90 per cent,” she said. 

Fast facts:

  • The Writing Centre has between 1,000 to 1200 appointments per year.
  • 70 per cent of the appointments are from repeat users.
  • 30 per cent are new or one-time visits.
  • About 50 per cent of the students are English as a Second Language or English as an Additional Language students. 
  • Students asked to bring a hardcopy draft. 
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