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Many educational institutions maintain a writing center that provides students with free assistance on their papers, projects, reports, multimodal documents, web pages, et cetera from consultants. A key goal of any writing center is helping writers to learn. Typical services include help with the purpose, structure, function of writing, and are geared toward writers of all levels and fields of study. Writing centers attempt to provide non-proscriptive and non-corrective response, instead relying on a fuller explanation of why a piece of writing may fail to fulfill the writer's aims. The goal is to help a writer learn to address the various exigences that she may encounter with the realization that no writing is decontextualized—it always addresses a specific audience.
A writing center usually offers individualized conferencing whereby the writing tutor offers his or her feedback on the piece of writing at hand; a writing tutor's main function is to discuss how the piece of writing might be revised. However, the tutor usually does not proofread nor edit the student's work. Instead, the tutor facilitates the student's attempts to revise his or her own work by conversing with the student about the topic at hand, discussing principles and processes of writing, modeling rhetorical and syntactical moves for the student to apply, and assisting the student in identifying patterns of grammatical error in his or her writing.
Historically, writing centers in American universities began appearing as "writing labs" in the early 20th century. Elizabeth Boquet and Stephen North point to the origins of the writing laboratory as first a method, not a place, where "the key characteristic of which appears to have been that all work was to be done during class time". This was to allow the student to compose with the teacher present, able to help with any revisions or questions the student may have. However, as class sizes and universities grew, Writing Centers began to develop as university institutions, often conceived of as an editing service for students. Faculty, students, staff, and administrators often viewed writing centers as places for remediation. At their best, however, they are places where all students, including the best ones, can get better, a place (according to Karen Head), "that returns to the ideal of a safe space for active debate and discourse about the best ways to communicate in a variety of modes."
Some institutions also offer an Online Writing Lab (OWL), which generally attempts to follow the model of writing center tutoring in an online environment. These environments have been said to be a step toward a new model of writing centers, a model known as Multiliteracy Centers. Another environment that could fall under this category is a physical space known as a digital studio.
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