A common and very well understood complaint from instructors is that we can refer students to resources or services that offer them help, but we can’t make them go, and unfortunately, they often don’t. This is sometimes the case for writing center referrals. While we certainly have to accept that ultimately we have no control over whether or not a student will seek our advice, we might also take a step back and consider how we are making referrals.
In the Writing Center, we have found that two things make a difference in students actually following through with your referral. The first is that a generic statement of “Go to the Writing Center to get help with your writing” is often not enough for students; they can be intimidated by this prospect. They are less apt to actually go to the Writing Center unless they are referred to specific resources or services, such as live tutoring or a particular resource in our Writing Reference Library. When they know exactly what they should look for on our home page, they are much more likely to use that service or resource.
The second thing that makes a difference is making sure that your feedback to them is specific so that they know exactly what to ask help with. Sometimes students will come into live tutoring and say their instructor sent them in order to get help with grammar and mechanics. Grammar and mechanics encompass many things, such as all punctuation, subject-verb agreement, sentence structure, and spelling just to name a few. Even if a student needed help with all of these things, it’s too much for them to take on and learn sufficiently at one time. It’s much better for them if we are specific about one or two items they should focus on like commas and subject-verb agreement. That way, they know exactly what resources to look for under our Writing Mechanics link. Working on two things is a much more attainable goal than for them to try and tackle three or more things at one time.
Getting help can sometimes be an intimidating experience, and the easier we can make this process for our students the better they are for it. If they know exactly what they should look for in the Writing Center, it is not as overwhelming as landing on our home page and not knowing what links to explore.
If you have any other suggestions for helping students to actually follow through on your advice, please share them with us.