Student - December 11, 2015

Students desperate for help with writing

Linda van der Nat

Wageningen students are eager for a bit of support in improving their writing skills, show figures from the Wageningen Writing Lab, which is now one year old. More than 200 students sought help with a writing assignment at the lab this year.

In October of last year Joke Marnissen took the initiative to launch a Wageningen writing lab along the lines of writing centres in university towns such as Nijmegen and Tilburg. In the lab students are guided by specially trained students in identifying and applying new strategies in their writing, whether it is a Master’s thesis or a Bachelor’s essay. In its first year the lab conducted nearly 300 interviews with more than 200 Bachelor’s and Master’s students. Most of the discussions focused on the writing process, says Marinissen. ‘That varied from questions like ‘how do I interpret the assignment’ to ‘how do I plan my text’. That is often a stumbling block, particularly for international students. They are not always used to having to understand and carry out an assignment independently, and at their previous university they got more guidance from the teacher.’ As well as the writing process, questions come up about the structure of the text, style and formulation.

The tutors are specialized in writing skills and not in the content-related side of a project, so the emphasis lies on structure and strategy. Most students can carry on independently after a single discussion, about 15 percent need a second meeting and a very small number need several meetings. 

They say that after feedback from the lab they not only enjoy writing more, but they also write faster and end up with higher grades
Joke Marinissen

Enjoying it more

Three hundred meetings were more than Marinissen had expected in the trial period. It proves that there is a need for a writing lab in Wageningen, she says. ‘The students tell us there is sometimes a lack of attention to writing in their courses, and that this lab meets their needs. They say that after feedback from the lab they not only enjoy writing more, but they also write faster and end up with higher grades.’

Continuing with the writing lab is attractive for the university, too, says Marinissen. ‘I expect, for example, that students will be able to finish off their theses faster and better, so the university will be able to keep up its current pass rate in spite of the problems caused by the growing student numbers. It also relieves the pressure on teachers, whose busy schedules mean they don’t always have time to supervise students adequately in the writing process.’

The writing lab is scheduled to continue until the end of this academic year, but it is not clear whether Marinissen and her tutors can continue after that. The rector, who visited the writing lab at the end of November, was certainly impressed. It looks fairly hopeful, thinks Marinissen. The decision on whether the Wageningen writing lab continues after the summer will be taken in February.

5 tips from Wageningen Writing Lab

  1. Rewriting is inevitable; expect to do so at least twice
  2. Tell your story to an outsider. If need be, record it and write it down
  3. Read your sentences out loud, or have someone else do so. Then you’ll automatically hear whether they flow well and whether they are too long
  4. Use (digital) reference sources for strategic solutions
  5. Make an appointment at the Writing lab J