Writing with Russ: Takeaways from the Writing Center

Posted on July 31, 2014

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Russell Bither-Terry uses his experience from working at the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center to bring you tips for clear, concise writing. Whether you are an MPA student or a city manager, Russell’s tips can help you in your everyday writing. 


My graduate school experience at UNC-Chapel Hill was littered with trips to the Writing Center.  A cure for my love of the passive voice first led me to the writing center. I quickly learned that the writing center was not a punishment but an incredible opportunity to learn from the experts. Writing tips, such as reading your work aloud or writing a first draft without constraints, have guided me throughout my professional career. 

Kent Wyatt , Tigard (OR) Senior Management Analyst and ELGL Co-Founder

Similar, But Different: Writing for College and Work


by: Russell Bither-Terry, Connect: LinkedIn and Twitter

July 31, 2014

Writing probably isn’t as widely feared as public speaking, but for many people it’s up there. In this new series I’ll highlight resources and strategies that can help with particular writing challenges.

My last three semesters of graduate school I was a tutor in The UNC Writing Center . It was the best job I’ve ever had: usually fun and always educational. Students came in for 45-minute appointments. We’d begin by setting some goals for the session. If they’d brought a piece of writing we’d read it aloud to get a sense of it, and to teach them the value of reading writing aloud to find awkward phrasing and errors. Then we’d look at some strategies and resources that addressed their goals.




College writing is similar to most other types of writing in a number of ways. Writing is thinking. It allows you to share your thoughts with others. Thus, all writing must consider audience: Who is reading this? What do they already know? What do they want to know? What are their preferences about language and style?

Both the college essay and anything you write for work need to start someplace and move through your ideas, arguments, and evidence in a coherent, organized fashion. Each individual sentence must be clear and free of the small errors that can lead some people to make (perhaps unfair) assumptions about you’re intelligence. (You see what I did there.) And so forth.

imagesIn spite of such general-level similarities, there are also key differences between writing for college and writing for work. Thus, we need to tweak a few things when applying writing strategies designed for college writing.

The most obvious difference is that your readership won’t be professors and teaching assistants: it includes supervisors, grant agencies, the general public, and more. The writing formats vary more, as well. A broader and more varied audience requires forethought about who will be reading something and what they expect.

The biggest difference I see is the degree of hand-holding. When I worked as a tutor many students brought in multi-page assignments with detailed instructions regarding every step of the process. In contrast, much of the writing in Grownup Land assumes you don’t need such guidance (many grant applications are an exception). However, there may be many unstated expectations – stuff “everyone” magically just knows. Deciphering those expectations and writing your own “assignment guidelines” is a key skill, and I’ll share strategies for doing that

So, in short, this series will look at resources and strategies designed for college students and discuss “hacking” them for use in other contexts. My next article will focus on making reverse outlines your friend.

Supplemental Reading

The Writing Center – Handoutsdownload

The Nature of the Job Search by Russell Bither-Terry

Papers and Thesis Documents from Russell Bither-Terry

34 Writing Tips That Will Make You a Better Writer

30 Indispensable Writing Tips From Famous Authors

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