University Writing Center Blog

Posted on October 2nd, 2014 in Tutoring, Writing Center Work by Jennifer Mahoney

by Ruth Butler, Tutor-in-Training, University Writing Center

Professionalism in a university writing center is the topic of much discussion, but definitions of what it actually means remain vague. This vagueness is, to a point, intentional: it allows flexibility while setting up a general guideline for what is acceptable. Establishing a professional setting in a writing center is essential to the work of the center in many ways; it establishes the value of the work that takes place and creates an environment tutors are happy to work in.

While much has changed since Stephen North’s foundational essay “The Idea of a Writing Center” (1984), the need for the writing center to be a workspace of professionals to establish its value to a university hasn’t changed at all. One faculty tutor at our Writing Center phrased it succinctly when she said that professionalism is important to writing centers because “we need to be seen as a place where students can get help.” Muriel Harris, founder of the Purdue OWL, agrees that helping students become stronger writers is the driving force behind professionalism in a writing center. In her essay “What’s Up and What’s In: Trends and Traditions in Writing Centers” (1990), she remarked that a passion for helping others is what drives tutors to do what they do (p. 32). By presenting ourselves as professionals, tutors can help students to intuitively understand the value of the work that takes place.

Professionalism in the IUPUI Writing Center leads to an environment of trust: according to one of our faculty tutors, “It’s one expectation that everyone can have -everyone has the ability to help each other. If you have a question, we’d be happy to help.” Our tutors care deeply about their job: when asked about types of professionalism, tutors are unequivocal that the student and the writing come first. One peer tutor recently noted that the time that a tutor spends with a student is about the student: the time is not about stresses affecting the tutor’s day, nor the tutor’s feelings about the viewpoints expressed in the writing, etc.. As the tutor put it: “[Tutors] always defer to the comfort of the student. Presenting a professional appearance is important because we are part of the university and our reputation [reflects on the university].”

In the end, the definition that binds all of these ideas together is that professionalism is a focus on the job at hand. Through training, tutors come to make the ideals of our writing center their own and embrace professionalism as an essential part of staying focused on the writing and the writer. Passion for writing and for the students who come through the center’s doors compels tutors to put the students first throughout each session. With the lofty goal of building better writers in mind, the tutors are able to put their passion to work, and they come to embody professionalism simply by loving what they do.

Harris, M. (1990). What’s up and what’s in: Trends and traditions in writing centers. The Writing Center Journal, 11(1), 15-25.

North, S. (1984). The idea of a writing center. St. Martin’s Sourcebook For Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2011.