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The Uses, Functions, and Shortcomings of University Writing Centers: The Disservice or No Proofreading Policies for ES/FL Learners Essay

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Updated: Apr 30th, 2020

Identifying the Problem Area

Importance of effective writing skills is enormous with regard to the existing academic and professional standards. During the peer-tutoring sessions, students are often challenged by the professors’ instructions and, therefore, they need additional assistance to cope with writing assignments.

This is of particular concern to ESL students who often face a dilemma of proofreading because of lack of qualified proofreading services on campus. However, the point is that most of students are not fully aware of the necessity to check their papers for grammar and spelling before submitting them to their professors. What is more frustrating is that the current writing centers for second language learners fail to provide sufficient services for them, except for the expensive ones.

Judging from the above-presented assumptions, two major problems come to the forth:

  1. What are the main reasons for students’ unawareness of the need to proofread their papers before submissions?
  2. What does the University fail to provide high quality proofreading services for ESL students?

With this in mind, it is necessary to explore the main causes and origins of the problem, as well as define who these urgent issues can be addressed through an action research plan.

Significance of the Problem

The problem of disservice writing policies, as well as students’ reluctance to address professional assistance has recently become much more serious. Many ESL learners fail to meet with their supervisors merely because they are not able to communicate effectively, as well as understand what actually a professor want them to do. Therefore, students studying the English language as their second one often come to the writing center for not just writing assistance, but for the purpose of improving their communicational skills (Pistone, 2010).

However, lack of sufficient communication skills might become a serious problem because it also influences the frequency of students’ attendance to the proofreading centers. Aside from the communication difficulties, ESL students can face significant writing problems that need especial intervention. The point is that writing skills cannot be underestimated because they demonstrate students’ learning abilities (Tan, n. d.). Therefore, students having poor writing level have greater changes to fail their academic exams.

The problem area is of especially significance because it provides significant barriers for the ESL students and contributes negatively to the problem of international learning. The problem is also closely associated with cultural diversity issues which are often ignored by professors. Thus, students studying the second language do not consider proofreading service as a viable solution to the problem because independent learning is highly appreciated in some countries.

Rationale for the Research

Regarding the problem of second language learning and the consequences of disservice writing centers, it is imperative to provide a deeper analysis of reasons for students’ reluctance and unawareness of attending writing centers, as well as underpinnings for re-evaluating the existing functions and use of proofreading services.

Looking the problem through the prism of innovative approaches to proofreading, as well as existing writing centers ensuring effective support and assistance to students, the research action plan should be introduced to take the corresponding measures to improve the current situation.

Theoretical Implications for the Action Research

Lack of highly qualified proofreading services, as well as students’ reluctance to address such services, provides a solid ground for researching the standards and main strategies applied by leading writing centers. It will help to define how ESL students can improve their writing skills.

There is also a necessity to explore the reasons for students’ ignorance of the importance of addressing tutors at the writing centers to compare the findings with the results obtained from questionnaire. Finally, it is also purposeful to focus on the existing strategies and approaches to assisting foreign learners in advancing their writing skills.

According to the studies performed by Tan (n. d.), few universities in Asian countries can provide sufficient writing services for ESL students. What is more problematic is that these services are often provided under the support of broader services, such as learning or self-access centers. As a result, lack of writing and support centers does not contribute to recognizing the fact that many students have serious problems with the written assignments.

Despite the identified shortage, some universities still manage to introduce innovation in the sphere of proofreading. For instance, the Baptist College in Hong Kong has created the Writing Enhancement Service because teacher became more aware of their students having problems with writing (Tan, n. d.). In this respect, they developed an effective system addressing various aspects of writing, as well as assisting students in exploring drawbacks in their writing.

In the studies provided by Gupta & Woldemarian (n. d.), it is also possible to track the interdependency of writing skills and degree of motivation to improve them. Because students are often triggered by the necessity to meet the academic writing standards, such aspects as attitude and motivation are always under the question. In this respect, these factors enable to differentiate because students with low and high achievement.

Because motivation and attitude are emotional composites of emotional cognition, they identify students’ reluctance or aspiration either to attend or to skip proofreading services. Similar to Gupta & Woldemarian (n. d.), Ma (2011) refers to the role of perception and attitude in achieving high academic results. Specifically, the scholar points out that sometimes, students and teachers’ perceptions of academic objectives differ significantly, which leads to misconception and bias.

As a result, students are often discouraged to present properly written assignments and understand the actual purpose of advancing their writing skills. Because students do not fully realize the importance of the writing skills, it is logical that they do not realize the importance of attending writing centers.

The dependency between teachers’ strategies and learners’ attention has also been studied by Torki (n. d.) who has managed to explore compatibility between these two aspects. Investigating those aspects within a context of vocabulary class, the research relies on the two variables, “frequency and order of occurrence of lexical items in classroom discourse” (Torki, n. d. p. 336). The findings have revealed that some of the teachers’ assumptions concerning the learning strategies have been false, including frequency of occurrence.

Overall, the given theoretical implications creates a sufficient ground for conducting a survey that seeks to define the actual reasons and percentage of students attending writing centers and the ones considering it a mere waste of time. Moreover, the given action research should define the new strategies for existing writing centers and proofreading services.


Data Collection

In order to answer the research questions and solve the research problems, a survey was conducted among 100 students on campus. The survey questions aim to define students’ attitude to writing services, as well as their awareness of the importance of attending proofreading services before submission. The sample population was chosen out of 3000 students. The participants composed of different nationalities, religions, and beliefs.

Gender characteristic have not been considered because it provides no importance for answering the research question. While collecting data about the participants, I encountered several challenges. First, some students rejected to participate because they did not actually understand the purpose of research, though the scope was sufficiently explained. Second, the participants had difficulties while answering specific questions that related to their personal attitudes and beliefs.

The data collection was composed of two stages. The first one involved e-mailing all students on campus about the survey and the second one was the survey itself. The invitation letter contained a brief characteristic of the research problem and a detailed analysis of an action research project. Out of 3000, about 230 reacted to the letter. However, the survey was completed by 100 participants because not all students were able to answer the questions.

The questionnaire prepared for the survey was composed with regard to such topics as frequency of attending writing centers, reasons for using services, students’ attitude of importance of using proofreading services, awareness and perception of teachers’ obligations and practical approaches.

All the thematic nodes sought to find out the reasons of disservice of proofreading polices, as well as students’ perception of their contribution to the learning process. In addition, students have been chosen from different classes and departments and, therefore, these facts will not be included as a variable for the given action research project.

Data Analysis

While analyzing the answers, several topic areas were covered in the questionnaire (See Appendix 1). Among the respondents, 52% participants attended the writing centers and most of them (36 %) visited the center only once. The rest of the respondents did not use the proofreading services because the majority of them (60 %) did not have enough time.

Despite low frequency of attendance, approximately 50 % of the respondents believe that the writing centers providing a wide range of services (writing tutorials, writing practice materials, proofreading assistance, and creative writing practice) are indispensible for a successful academic progress.

Hence, a controversy emerges concerning students’ frequency of attendance and their actual needs. Regarding these controversies, the focus should be made on re-evaluation of the existing services provided by the writing centers. First, the responses indicate that tutors fail to consider students’ needs and objectives because they do not fully recognize the problem with writing.

Second, though the existing on campus agency provide sufficient writing and proofreading services, teacher fail to ensure students with the corresponding support and assistance. What is more important is that these agencies fail to invite students and persuade those that proofreading process is as important as the writing one.

The second part of a survey was focused on the analysis of teachers’ role in assisting and counseling students. Thus, almost two third of respondents (62 %) confirmed that they are not in need of a person that would check their paper before submission. The remaining third (38 %) of students recognized the necessity of introducing intermediate for checking their writing. However, among these 38 % of students refer to mostly either to family members or friend for checking a paper.

Out of those people, only 24 % rely on teacher’s authority. As per 62 %, these groups of students explain their reluctance to involve a third person by unavailability of professionals (47 %), insignificance of the checking (30 %), and time shortage (21 %), 2 % of the respondents do not even consider that checking is really important.

These results were supported by students’ opinion about the importance and usefulness of the proofreading services. Finally, the results of the survey provided information about the expensiveness of the proofreading services because only 17 % of respondents afforded to pay for them.

Overall, the given survey results have proved the idea that the writing centers on campus do not provide enough support. They also fail to attract students to address such agencies because the majority of students have not applied to them yet. Finally, students’ perception of tutors help is insignificant because they do not recognize the role of counseling in advancing their writing skills. At the same time, they believe that writing tutorials and creative approaches should still be used.

A Plan of Action

To explore the reasons and define the solutions that should be introduced, it is necessary to introduce changes to the current situation. The solutions will be focused on improving the quality of tutors’ assistance, as well as making students being more aware of the importance of addressing the writing centers.

With regard to the above, the plan will focus on introducing the following changes:

  1. Introducing new tutor strategies for creating new writing centers on campus will be possible through a care-centered approach (Piston, 2010);
  2. Reconsidering professor’s instructions to the written assignments through instructional interventions (Enos, 2010);
  3. Recognizing the difficulties that students experience while performing a written assignment (Tan, n. d.);
  4. Introducing a person-oriented approach to assessing ESL student writing skills;
  5. Creating separate classes of ESL students having difficulties with proofreading (Ernest, Johnson, & Kelly-Riley, 2011);
  6. Introducing new steps to understanding written assignment.

Regarding the first solution, it is purposeful to introduce a care giving approach for a student. Under these circumstances, the personnel of the writing centers should undergo special training to meet the concepts and requirement of a new learning technique. To be more precise, “…the caring tutoring approach when the tutor does not mindlessly berate the tutee about every sentence in the tutee’s paper and a caring tutor employs constructive criticism” (Piston, 2010, p. 10).

Thus, a caring approach will fear a deep comprehension of a tutor, as well as an in-depth analysis of the tutee. Hence, the concept of caring should an ethical obligation for students because tutors should assist students from moral and professional perspectives.

In this respect, Piston (2010) talks about mothering roles and increased importance of women in applying this approach. A relation between a tutor and tutee, therefore, should be interpreted as a psychological consultation, which is necessary for recognizing the difficulties and overcoming those in smaller class groups.

Aside from innovative approaches introduced in the plan, significant shifts should be presented to the actual academic schedule. In this respect, Enos (2011) insists on the idea of instructional interventions to fill in the gaps between students’ writing skills and teachers’ expectations. In this respect, the importance of instructional interventions lies in promoting the level of students’ writing skills, as well as improving the learning outcomes.

Judging from these theoretical implications, the practical intervention will be based on the shift in communication, lesson structure, and home assignments allocation. More importantly, the professors will have to introduce cohesive and strict instructions to the home assignment where the proofreading part will be inserted as an obligatory component of academic home assignments.

A person-oriented approach is also an integral component of advanced and high-quality proofreading centers, as far as people with culturally diverse backgrounds are concerned. According to Crossman and Kite (2007), there is an evident connection between learning practices and the phenomenon of cultural diversity.

Hence, introducing native speakers to ESL classes will be beneficial for both group because there is a great opportunities for sharing experience and exchanging cultural information. Students from different cultures integrates into proofreading activities can significantly improve their communicational and interpersonal skills. Moreover, a collaborative approach presented at the writing centers can open a wide variety of perspectives for all students.

Finally, understanding the scope of written assignments can be widened through creating online writing lab. Existing writing agencies on campus, therefore, should post basic concepts and purposes of writing, among the proofreading process should take one of the most important means of successful and high quality writing.

Moreover, integration of online services to Asian university should become possible through interventions made from the North American higher educational establishments (Tan, n. d., p. 390). Embracing all the above-presented solutions will help re-establish and improve the existing situation with the shortage of proofreading services, as well as disservice of the writing policies.

Evaluating Results

Regarding the proposed interventions, the improvement should occur in terms of students’ increased awareness of the role of proofreading services in an academic process, as well as advanced quality of writing services provided to students. In this respect, introducing a care giving approach to each student should contribute greatly to changing perceptions and attitudes to word the editing and proofreading process being inherent parts of successful writing.

Teaching patterns will also undergo tangible shifts both at the writing centers on campus and in the classrooms. In particular, they should encourage students to engage into different social communities and attract them to address writing agencies for the purpose of improving their communication skills and proofreading skills.

Moreover, significant attention will be given to difficulties and challenges that students should overcome. In such a manner, the intervention plan will increase the number of ESL students that want to apply to editing and proofreading services before submitting a written assignment to their instructions.

The given approach to problem solving provides significant results because total evaluation of an academic curriculum is closely associated with disservice of proofreading services, as well as students’ unawareness of the writing difficulties. However, the intervention plan can be significantly facilitated if the University authorities decide to create community learning services guiding students and helping them cope with writing difficulties.

In addition, a combination of survey results (quantitative data) with interviews (qualitative data) would also be beneficial for the given action research project because it could help consider ethical issues (Harwood, Austin, & Macaulay, 2010; Arney & Jones, 2006). Specifically, interviews would provide a deeper insight into the students’ perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes concerning the role of proofreading and tutors’ assistance in writing skills acquisition.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The action research projects have highlighted the importance of introducing tutors’ assistance, as well as specific training materials for ESL students so as to advance the level of their writing skills. In fact, paying greater attention to the concept of writing and proofreading service can increase the quality of students’ achievement, as well as contribute to students’ understanding of using editing and proofreading services being at the core of successful writing.

The data analysis has justified the rationale for introducing action plan to the given problem because the majority of ESL students on campus are not fully aware of the value of tutors’ assistance and support. In this respect, the implementation of a care giving approach and a person-oriented learning can provide significant shifts to the overall educational system.

The quantitative data received from survey results constitute sufficient evidence for continuing the research on the problem of proofreading services provided by the writing centers on campus. Implications for future works will be specifically connected with the study of cultural diversity as one of the key indicators that influence ESL learners’ writing skills. Specifically, creating service learning communities and online writing labs that can motivate students to address counselors.

With regard to the above-presented conclusions, it is recommended to introduce qualitative data to supply the given research with additional information on the reasons for ignoring professional assistance of peer tutors checking papers before submissions. Financial issues should also be considered while tackling the problem of students’ perception of the writing agencies at the University.


Arney, J., & Jones, I. (2006). Uniting Community and University Through Service Learning. Business Communication Quarterly, 69(2), 195-198.

Crossman, J. M., & Kite, S. L. (2007). Their Perspectives: Esl Students’ Reflections On Collaborative Community Service Learning. Business Communication Quarterly, 70(2), 147-165.

Enos, M. F. (2010). Instructional Interventions For Improving Proofreading And Editing Skills Of College Students. Business Communication Quarterly, 73(3), 265-281.

Ernest, A., Johnson, P., & Kelly-Riley, D. (2011). Assessing Rhetorically: Evidence of Student Progress in Small-Group Writing Tutorials. Learning Assistance Review (TLAR), 16(2), 23-40.

Gupta, D., & Woldemarian, G. S. (n. d.). The Influence of Motivation and Attitude on Writing Strategy Use of Undergraduate EFL Students: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives. Asian EFL Journal. 13(2), 34-89.

Harwood N., Austin, L., & Macaulay, R. (2010). Ethics and integrity in proofreading: Findings from an interview-based study. English For Specific Purposes, 2954-67.

Ma, A. (2011). Do teachers reap what they sow? — A study of young ESL learners’ perception of what is learned in an English lesson. Asian EFL Journal, 13(3), 184-204.

Piston, R. A. (2010). Writing Center Tutors Have the Luxury to Focus on Individual Student Care Giving as Opposed to Formal Classroom Settings that Are Less Care Centered. English Language Teaching. 3(2), 10-12.

Tan, B.-H. (n. d.) Innovating Writing Centers and Online Writing Labs outside North America. Asian EFL Journal. 13(2), 391-418.

Torki, S. (n. d.) What Teachers Want Them to Attend to in EFL Vocabulary Class? Asian EFL Journal. 13(2), 336-361.

ESP Writing Skills Survey – Results

Please circle the correct answer and provide information according to your answer, if requested.

Have you ever been to the writing center on campus?

  • YES (48%)
  • NO (52%)

If YES, on average how many times per semester?

  • Once (36%)
  • Two or three times (42%)
  • Four or five times (24%)
  • More than five times (2%)

If NO, why not?

  • No one was available to help the last time I went (7%)
  • It is not necessary (30%)
  • I never have enough time (60%)
  • Other (Please explain _Didnt know about it____ ) (3%)

What do you think is the main purpose of a writing center?

  • To provide writing tutorials (27%)
  • To provide writing practice materials (34%)
  • To provide proof-reading assistance (15%)
  • To encourage creative writing (24%)

Please rank the importance of the writing services below according to your own personal need.

Service Not Important Slightly Important Moderately Important Very Important
Writing tutorials 7% 15% 28% 50%
Writing practice materials 5% 9% 34% 52%
Proof reading assistance 6% 44% 20% 30%
Creative writing practice 4% 14% 29% 53%

Do you have someone check your work before you submit it to your teacher?

  • YES (38%)
  • NO (62%)

If YES, who checks your work?

  • A family member (34%)
  • A friend (43%)
  • A teacher (23%)
  • Other (Please explain ___________________ ) (0%)

If NO, why not?

  • No one is available to help (47%)
  • It is not necessary (30%)
  • I never have enough time (21%)
  • Other (Please explain __Never thought of it____ ) (2%)

In your opinion, how much would a proof reading service help you to improve your writing skills?

  • Not at all (4%)
  • Slightly (16%)
  • Moderately (56%)
  • Dramatically (24%)

Have you ever paid for a proof reading service online?

  • YES (17%)
  • NO (83%)
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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Uses, Functions, and Shortcomings of University Writing Centers: The Disservice or No Proofreading Policies for ES/FL Learners'. 30 April.

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