Writing Center Policies

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The Cornell Writing Centers are generally flexible in our work with writers, but the following guidelines may help you to better understand how we function as well as some of our limitations.

Tutoring Times

Writers can make either a 30-minute or 60-minute appointment using our online scheduler, WC Online. Our applications tutoring and digital tutoring appointments are set for a minimum of 60-minute appointments because both options generally need more time. 

Writers are encouraged to only bring 4-6 pages of writing at a time, and we can only promise each writer a 30-minute appointment (when it's busy). Most of the Writing Center locations have, at minimum, one tutor for appointments and one tutor for walk-ins. Tutors prioritize writers who've made appointments; however, if it's a very busy shift, tutors may need to cut 60-minute appointments down to 30-45 minute appointments. 

Appointments Limitations

Generally, writers can only make two appointments per week through our online scheduling system, WC Online. Our goal is to help you understand how your piece of writing works and how you can revise it and grow as a writer. Growing as a writer involves reading and revising your writing on your own as well as working with a tutor; thus, we hope that the maximum of two appointments per week will encourage further time reading and thinking about your writing on your own.

We encourage writers to work with multiple tutors, rather than only making appointments with the same tutor for every session. We believe that getting multiple perspectives on your writing will prove more useful.

We encourage writers to cancel WC Online appointments no less than 8 hours before the scheduled appointment. Cancelling your appointment, when necessary, is a curtesy both to the tutor and to other writers who may wish to make an appointment at that time. If you miss three appointments (without cancelling them), your WC Online account will be automatically disabled.  

Tutors DO NOT Edit or Proofread 

Editing is a crucial part of the writing process. In order to produce precise and polished prose, writers must direct attention to the sentence-level. And, as is the case when developing proficiency in any feature of college writing, learning how to edit requires time, practice, and patience.

Tutors at the Cornell Writing Centers are available to provide certain kinds of sentence-level support. Tutors will clarify rules, explain conventions, provide examples, and guide writers as they revise their own sentences. Tutors will discuss style, language, and rhetorical choices. But tutors are not editors – they cannot correct grammar, syntax, punctuation, or typographical errors. With sentence-level work, the tutor's goal will be to help you identify an error and correct it on your own. 

Here are some of the reasons why our policy is not to edit a writer's work:

  1. First, there is no pedagogical value in having a tutor edit a student’s paper.  Writers do not learn when other people correct errors for them.  The Writing Center’s primary goal is to ensure that students have access to learning opportunities, so during tutoring sessions, tutors use specific pieces of writing to engage broader discussions about academic writing and to encourage robust interventions into student writing processes.
  2. Second, copyediting someone else’s writing requires a highly specialized skill set.  Writing tutors are not professional editors; they simply do not have the training, experience, or desire to perform such technical work.
  3. Third, tutors are Cornell University students themselves.  They cannot complete assignments for other students.  As such, deep collaboration of this kind, line-by-line editing, could violate Cornell University’s Code of Academic Integrity and thus put students and tutors at risk.

Editing is hard work. Even writers who take the process very seriously can come up against severe obstacles as they hone in on the word, paragraph, or page:  Writers may be fatigued or stressed, or inexperienced.  They might speak and write other languages, or they might be managing learning differences or disabilities.  They might have knowledge gaps or unevenly developed skills.  They might be reaching to learn.

As readers, especially of student writing, we can learn to be patient with sentence-level writing errors and to focus, instead, on how students are developing their ideas, using evidence, organizing their essays, and making their arguments.

Tutors at the Cornell Writing Centers are eager to help writers become more confident, efficient, and effective readers and editors of their own writing.  Here are several typical strategies tutors will use for sentence-level writing work: 

  • LOCATE PATTERNS OF ERROR. Writing tutors read through significant portions of a writing project (no more than 5 pages) and identify ONLY one or two patterns of error (run-on sentences or subject-verb agreement, for instance).  Writing tutors circle recurring errors or put checkmarks in the margins to indicate problems with recurring errors in the marked lines.  Writing tutors then explain the errors and work with writers to correct them.
  • SELECT A PASSAGE OF TEXT. Writing tutors read through a short section of a writing project (one paragraph, perhaps, but no more than one page) and identify a range of errors.  Writing tutors circle errors throughout the short section or put checkmarks in the margins to indicate problems in the marked lines.
  • READ OUT LOUD. Writing tutors listen as writers read aloud portions of their writing (no more than 3-5 pages) and mark any places where writers say something different than what is on the page.  Alternatively, writing tutors read papers out loud while writers mark any places that do not sound as intended.

All of these strategies focus on helping a writer learn about writing, rather than fixing their writing for them. 

Tutoring Expectations

The WC expects that writers will turn off their cell phones (no talking or texting) during a tutoring session. If you're waiting for your appointment, we would encourage you to spend time reviewing your essay and to develop 2-3 specific spots or concerns you have to discuss with the tutor. Tutoring is most effective and enjoyable for both parties when you are an active participant. 

Tutor Agency 

Another policy at the Cornell Writing Centers is that ALL TUTORS have agency to make decisions that are best for them. That means, your tutor may ask you to print out your essay because that's how they read best, or a tutor may be willing to work with you for an extra half hour or they may need to be done immediately when their tutoring shift is done. Tutors, like writers, have individual reading and tutoring preferences as well as varying comfort levels with different types of situations--we encourage them, like you, to make purposeful decisions that all parties are comfortable with. While this policy does result in a variety of different practices and approaches to different situations, we hope that you'll respect each tutor's requests and sense of what they need, as they will also respect your choices about what you need. 

WC Online Scheduling System

We use WC Online (https://cornell.mywconline.net/) for scheduling appointments and keeping track of the number of appointments we have each semester. If you came to the Writing Centers without an appointment, it is likely a tutor created a WC Online account for you in order to track the appointment. If you are trying to login to WC Online and can’t, simply use your Cornell email address and click on “Reset your password.” The “Reset your password” link is right below the login button.

Proof of Appointments

Generally, we do not support tutors (who are peers) providing teachers with proof of an appointment. Since we believe that peers are equals and tutors do not have power over their peer writers, tutors should not be asked to sign or authorize any documents that prove writers attended a session. However, writers can request that tutors email the writers their client report from, which the writer can use as they please. Client report forms are, generally, an internal document that summarizes and reflects on the tutoring session.

Editing Policy as a Printable PDF handout.