Paper due tomorrow? Don’t panic! We can help

A student walked into the CSN Writing Center on the Charleston campus this afternoon looking a little lost. Nervous, maybe, unsure what she was going to do.

That’s not unusual.

She had her laptop in her bag and she pulled it out. She needed help coming up with an outline for a paper for her intro criminal justice class.

It was due tomorrow.

“I got it, I got it,” she insisted with a smile and a laugh.


That’s my temporary nametag up on the Writing Center’s whiteboard. Your CSN blogger acted as a writing assistant for a little while on Monday.

The writing centers, which CSN has on all three campuses, have had more than 20,000 visits by students already this year — and the busiest week of the year is hitting right now as research papers come due.

Robyn Rohde, the centers’ manager, said it’s not unusual for students to wait until the last minute. Stats shows most students come in the day before or the day that their papers are due.

Don’t do that.

The center can help students plan ahead. The writing assistants there are really cool. They’ve helped students in 99 different subject areas this year, no kidding. They’ll help students figure out a topic if needed, help come up with an outline for the paper, point students toward legitimate research, even show them how to format the thing and cite sources.

But they can’t do the actual work.

This is good, because I was a writing coach for about a half hour on Monday and I’ve been out of college since Boyz II Men topped the charts.

I wanted to see what it was like to be a writing coach. I’ve been a professional writer for 20 years, but writing a story and writing a research paper aren’t the same.

Rohde explained how things work. She introduced me to everyone. She said students can come in as often as they want to, and there’s never any cost. The sessions are limited to 30 or 40 minutes at a time, though, so everyone can get help.

So there I was when that nervous student walked in with the criminal justice assignment.

She said her professor, Scott Burton, recommended the center. That’s really common, and a great idea. If you’re not familiar with how to write a research paper, do not wing it. Ask someone for help. Once you know the format and such, it’s pretty easy.

The student had to write a paper, minimum 250 words, on why plea bargaining is a necessary part of our justice system. She had to include the positive aspects and the negative aspects. She wanted the outline done before she left.

We had a half hour.


I sketched something like this out on a piece of paper:

  • introduce your thesis, which is essentially turning the assignment question into a statement
  • provide evidence to back up your thesis
  • provide a few examples of what’s good
  • provide a few examples of what’s bad
  • restate your thesis with clarity and force


The Writing Center staff produces reports for every student they help so they can keep track of how they're doing.

The Writing Center staff produces reports for every student they help so they can keep track of how they’re doing.

She looked a few things up, we brainstormed ideas, and she wrote the outline as I provided feedback.

That’s all she really needed, a little feedback. She needed someone to guide her, not tell her what to do. So that’s what I gave her.

Students who need more guidance get that, too.

I told the student that if she needed help with grammar, or with figuring out how to cite her sources, or anything else, she should come back. She promised she would.

Of course, since the paper was due in 24 hours, that didn’t leave a lot of time.

But at least she had a good start.

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