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Program helps grad students become better writers

March 09, 2009

Thesis, dissertation, grants, research papers...not everyone thinks of themselves as a writer, yet every graduate student is expected to write. Without training or feedback, it's an intimidating prospect.

A pilot program is under way to boost the writing skills of graduate students in the core concerns and language of their specific discipline. The new Graduate Writers' Studios resulted from collaboration between ASU's Writing Center, the Graduate College (GC) and faculty and departments across several disciplines.

Each writers group of six to twelve graduate students in related disciplines meet six times during the semester. A graduate student, trained by the Writing Center, serves as facilitator. Students bring writing-in-progress for structured peer review and critique. The facilitator is paid a stipend and students attend for free.

Individual departments recommend both the facilitator and the students who will attend that semester, says Dr. Joan Brett, Associate Vice Provost and director of Graduate College professional development. "This began because a faculty member contacted the Graduate College about the need for writing support for graduate students, and evolved into a collaboration that none of us could accomplish on our own."

"All writers need somebody to react to their writing, says Dr. Jeanne Simpson, Director of the ASU Writing Center. "We have one-to-one tutoring available in the Writing Center, but I wanted something a little more flexible that would serve our large graduate student population. We all share the effort, and it creates a place where graduate students can form a scholarly community and interact with their peers. It's an important preparation for their professional lives."

"Writing is one of the fundamental skills for advancing one's career and we should do all we can for students in this area," agrees Dr. Winslow Burleson, an assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. After ASU's writing programs confirmed that there was no formal class to meet his students' needs, Dr. Burleson championed the need for writing skills training to the Graduate College. His Computer Science & Engineering program is now one of the initial participants in the Graduate Writers' Studios.

Other participating programs include History, Religious Studies, Gender Studies, Criminology & Criminal Justice, Human & Social Dimensions of Science & Technology, WP Carey MBA, and Exercise & Wellness.

Concise and clear writing is a qualification for the executive world, says M. Paula Rey, pursuing her MBA at the W. P. Carey School of Business and facilitator of their Graduate Writers' Studio. "Insights gained through this collaborative effort are important for MBA students. Their interaction with recruiters and managers can open the door to professional opportunities."

"We tell students to write and write and write, but they need to get feedback on specific work," says Dr. Pamela Swan, the executive chair of ASU's Ph.D. Program in Physical Activity, Nutrition and Wellness (PANW). "There are generic writing rules that apply to all fields, but it's great to have a program that is discipline-specific because students need to hear and use the language of their field.

Podcasts with perspectives on writing in specific disciplines are available on the GC website at More information on the Writers' Studios is available at