Conversation Shaper: How Students’ Experiences With Writing Impact Their Perceptions of Writing Centers

Emily Segrest, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Chloe Coy, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Framing Statement

Before a student ever walks into their university writing center, they have already established an emotional, complex relationship with writing. From learning the alphabet to drafting college entrance essays, students constantly engage in writing processes throughout various environments and contexts. This engagement occurs within a community of family members, friends, high school teachers, and college professors, as well as numerous others; the position of these individuals within a person’s writing experience impacts the way one views themselves as a writer. In her piece “To Write or Not to Write? Students’ Perceptions of their Lived Experiences Within the Academic Writing Process,” Lisa Bompiani-Smith (2015) asserts that writing “connects human beings by sharing innovations, thoughts, emotions, and lives, and many factors contribute to successful written expression and communication” (p. 1). The culmination of these initial writing experiences and relational influences defines the relationship between a student and their writing. As such, it is essential that writing center members are aware of these individual experiences.

At the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’s University Writing Center, our mission statement emphasizes the importance of “writers supporting writers.” In order to support our writers, however, it’s important to move beyond only guiding our peers in their grammatical structures, finding a central topic for their next assignment, and assisting them in paper revisions. This key concept involves the deeper recognition that every student who walks into the center has a different relationship with writing. These experiences shape the way individuals interact with writing centers as the two are deeply interrelated. Acknowledging the impact of student experiences is essential in understanding why students perceive writing centers in particular ways. The following bibliography features scholarship that examines student experiences with writing, as well as scholarship that specifically focuses on student perceptions and expectations regarding writing centers, and scholarship that explores the crossroads of these subjects. While there is extensive research on these topics individually, there is less scholarship regarding how they interconnect; our writing center work and much of the scholarship listed in this Conversation Shaper attempts to bridge this gap. 

Diversifying the bibliography in terms of field, author, and experience brings in numerous voices to help readers gain insight into different students’ journeys with writing. If we only view students, writing, and writing centers through one lens, it is impossible to see a complete and accurate picture. Including scholarship both written by and studying the narratives of queer, disabled, BIPOC, and other marginalized voices is integral to this conversation about writing and lived experiences. The complexity of the multiple identities and intersectionalities each writer embodies makes it essential to highlight the stories of underrepresented groups, so we can connect to, listen, and learn from their experiences. We also present research focused on a variety of age groups, from elementary school students to university writers. This emphasizes the importance writing has throughout the entirety of our lives. Additionally, because writing is an interdisciplinary activity, we include scholarship that showcases experiences with writing across numerous fields, such as education, engineering, and computer science. Adding these valuable perspectives recognizes that students come from a variety of backgrounds; examining this field-specific scholarship in conjunction with writing center pedagogy provides a more complete understanding of students’ experiences. 

In purposefully acknowledging the fact that writers have multiple identities and in valuing the complicated lived experiences that come from such diverse identities, we are committed to equity and inclusion, both inside and outside of writing centers. Our university writing center is dedicated to decolonial, antiracist pedagogies and practices that strive to promote a broad and inclusive understanding of writing. We value language diversity and advocate for linguistic justice, going against the notion that there is a so-called standard English and amplifying the voices of those who do not speak White Mainstream English (Baker-Bell, 2020). We also commit ourselves to empowering writers linguistically, academically, professionally, and personally. This involves viewing and engaging with writers not just as students, but more importantly, as complex human beings with various identities and aspects of life. As we explore how students’ experiences impact their perceptions of writing centers, we hope to demonstrate these principles through this bibliography.


Al Murshidi, G. & Al Abd, K. (2014). UAE university students’ awareness of using the writing center. Higher Education Studies, 4(3), 58-63.

Baker-Bell, A. (2020). Linguistic justice: Black language, literacy, identity, and pedagogy. Taylor & Francis Group.

Bompiani-Smith, L. (2015). To write or not to write? Students’ perceptions of their lived experiences within the academic writing process. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Bromley, P., Schonberg, E., & Northway, K. (2015). Student perceptions of intellectual engagement in the writing center: Cognitive challenge, tutor involvement, and productive sessions. Writing Lab Newsletter, 39(7-8), 1-6.

Buck, O. (2018). Students’ idea of the writing center: First-visit undergraduate students’ pre- and post-tutorial perceptions of the writing center. The Peer Review, 2(2).

Cedillo, C. V., & Bratta, P. (2019). Relating our experiences: The practice of positionality stories in student-centered pedagogy. College Composition and Communication, 71(2), 215-240.

Cheatle, J. & Bullerjahn, M. (2015). Undergraduate student perceptions and the writing center. WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship.

Colton, A. (2020). Who (according to students) uses the writing center?: Acknowledging impressions and misimpressions of writing center services and user demographics. Praxis, 17(3).

Denny, H., Nordlof, J., & Salem, L. (2018). “Tell me exactly what it was that I was doing that was so bad”: Understanding the needs and expectations of working-class students in writing centers. The Writing Center Journal, 37(1), 67-100.

DiPardo, A. (1992). “Whispers of coming and going”: Lessons from Fannie. The Writing Center Journal, 12(2), 125-44.

Dixon, E. (2017). Uncomfortably queer: Everyday moments in the writing center. The Peer Review, 1(2).

Driscoll, D. & Wells, J. (2020). Tutoring the whole person: Supporting emotional development in writers and tutors. Praxis, 17(3).

Giaimo, G. (2017). Focusing on the blind spots: RAD-based assessment of students’ perceptions of community college writing centers. Praxis, 15(1).

Greenfield, L., & Rowan, K. (2011). Writing centers and the new racism: a call for sustainable dialogue and change. (1st Edition ed.). Logan: Utah State University Press.

Morrison, J. B., & Nadeau, J.-P. (2003). How was your session at the writing center? Pre- and post-grade student evaluations. Writing Center Journal, 23(2), 25-42.

Newman, B. M. (2003). Centering in the borderlands: Lessons from Hispanic student writers. The Writing Center Journal, 23(2), 43-62.

Petric, B. (2002). Students’ attitudes towards writing and the development of academic writing skills. The Writing Center Journal, 22(2), 9-27.

Rowan, K. (2015). Review essay: Towards a disability literacy in writing center studies. The Writing Center Journal, 34(2), 175-190.

Sarraf, K. (2019). Extending “the idea of the writing laboratory”: a simulation-based workshop for computer science majors. The Peer Review, 3(1).

Salem, L. (2016). Decisions…decisions: Who chooses to use the writing center? The Writing Center Journal, 35(2).

Weissbach, R. & Pflueger, R. (2018). Collaborating with writing centers on interdisciplinary peer tutor training to improve writing support for engineering students. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 61(2).

Williams, A. D. (2019). “I can’t do cartwheels, so I write”: Students’ writing affect. Composition Studies, 47(2), 68-86, 241.

Zumbroon, S., Ekholm, E., Stringer, J.K., McKnight, K., & DeBusk-Lane, M. (2017). Student experiences with writing: Taking the temperature of the classroom. The Reading Teacher, 70(6), 667-677.

Where We’d Like to Go

While there is a significant amount of scholarship on students’ relationships with writing and on their perceptions of writing centers, there is less of a focus on the correlation between the two concepts. We’ve found this particularly pertinent as we have embarked on a study focused on the connection between students’ lived experiences with writing and their perceptions of our own university writing center. Notable pieces, such as Anne DiPardo’s (1992) “‘Whispers of Coming and Going’: Lessons from Fannie” and Bojana Petric’s (2002) “Students’ Attitudes Towards Writing and the Development of Academic Writing Skills,” explore this intersection of student experiences and perceptions. This scholarship, which closely examines students’ self-concept as writers and their personal relationships with writing, can help all members of the writing center community better understand why students may have specific notions of what the writing center is and what it is not, in addition to why they do or do not visit the center. The important and relevant pieces listed in our bibliography serve as models for further emerging scholarship on this essential topic.

Additionally, we hope to see further scholarship on this connection that particularly examines non-traditional university students. Although the lived experiences of middle-class, white university students are valuable, they tend to dominate writing center scholarship. We are heartened by Denny et al.’s (2018) focus on working-class students and Giaimo’s (2017) survey of students at a two-year community college, as they both study the lives of students who have historically been underrepresented in mainstream scholarship. Furthermore, Dixon (2017) centers her work on queer students, while Driscoll and Wells (2020) discuss mental illness, which is particularly relevant during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. This scholarship all emphasizes the importance of diverse students and their stories. As such, we would love to see the field continue to highlight the lived experiences of students who have been considered to be outside of the mainstream, as well as their perceptions of writing centers and writing as a discipline.