When I was much younger, the Microsoft Word spell-checker was my only editor. As I advanced as a writer, I learned that in addition to electronic help, there were many resources out there that could help me with my writing — not the least of which were my parents. However, I always bristled at their criticism (read: advice), so I was excited when I had the opportunity to work with my peers on my high school newspaper. While I benefited greatly from my time spent working with peers, when I came to the University, it was back to the spell-checker.

This is not to say that the University doesn’t offer the appropriate resources for peer help, but rather that I was unfamiliar with them. Before my sophomore year, I had little to no idea what the Sweetland Writing Center was. Quite frankly, the extent of my knowledge was that one of my classes met in a room inside the center. Early in my junior year, I was introduced to Sweetland as a place where “troubled writers” could get help. I reluctantly checked it out, and was surprised and thrilled to discover that it was a place for all types of writers, troubled or accomplished, to sharpen and develop their writing skills. Since then, I have trained to become a Sweetland peer tutor and have learned firsthand what this previously unfamiliar place has to offer. So, with the end of the semester looming and final paper due dates approaching, students — struggling or not — should familiarize themselves with Sweetland and take advantage of its myriad of resources.

Quite often, students stereotype writing centers as places where challenged, or dare I say “bad,” writers are sent for help. Unfortunately, teachers often do little to combat this misconception as they often recommend that struggling writers pay a visit to Sweetland. And while Sweetland is indeed a great resource for students, it is by no means a place only for the struggling. Anyone can benefit from a visit to the writing center, and students from all different schools and departments should realize how much they can learn from engaging in one-on-one dialogue about their writing. Sweetland tutors are there to help students brainstorm, structure and edit, while catering directly to students’ needs — whatever they may be. And while I understand that there are people who feel confident enough in their work to go at it alone, I think I’d be hard pressed to find a student on campus who hasn’t struggled at some point in the writing process.

That being said, because students frequently feel embarrassed about needing extra help, teachers, students and tutors must work together to break the undeserved stigma of writing centers. There is no shame in either needing or wanting help, and students should know that writers of all levels and needs are welcomed at Sweetland. In fact, students should realize how lucky they are to have such an amazing and free resource at their disposal, as few other tutoring services on campus are cost-free (I know people who have shelled out hundreds of dollars on tutoring in a single semester). And because there is no charge for appointments — most of which are on a walk-in basis — students simply have no excuse for not visiting the center. Sweetland even offers online tutoring for students who either can’t fit a one-on-one session into their schedules, or who are uncomfortable speaking about their work in a personal setting.

So, as you work on your final drafts, or as you begin drafting, be sure to remember that Sweetland is only a short walk or e-mail away. By visiting Sweetland, you have the opportunity to improve not only the paper you are working on, but your writing skills and abilities. Tutors are always happy to see new faces, and though the separation might be hard at first, I doubt your spellchecker will miss you too much.

Leah Potkin can be reached at lpotkin@umich.edu.

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