University of South Carolina

The write place

By Peggy Binette,, 803-777-7704

If you think the USC Writing Center is just a place to find a misplaced modifier or to stop a participle from dangling, think again.

Mostly it’s a place where students, faculty and staff go for coaching and encouragement on the writing process. A team of 12 staff tutors help writers work through the writing process – organization and structure -- for essays, research papers, dissertations or personal statements. They also help fine tune the mechanics of grammar and punctuation.

“Our mission is to help others learn about the writing process,” says Graham Stowe, associate director at the Writing Center. “We discourage students from coming in just for proofreading. We want to be seen as writing teachers. We want them to learn how to proofread their own work.”

Last year the center logged a record 4,199 visits, two-thirds of whom were by undergraduates.

Britney Nesbit was one of those students. Nesbit, a biology student who graduated in December, wanted help with writing her personal statement for pharmacy school applications.

“Writing was not one of my favorite things. It has always been difficult for me to get my thoughts on paper. I would second guess myself a lot and procrastinate because it didn’t come easy for me,” Nesbit says.

She says the one-on-one coaching she received has changed the way she feels about writing.

“They told me what I had is good and asked me to read it out loud. It is a very encouraging environment to get your ideas out based on your objective,” she says.

Stowe says personal statements are one of the most difficult forms of writing because a person has to write about herself, what she wants to study, why she would be a good choice for a particular school. And she must do all of that without bragging.

“I learned how to capture my voice in a limited length. They helped me shrink it down without losing my original thoughts on how I wanted to approach it. It’s tricky picking out your strengths in hopes of intriguing someone else for an interview,” says Nesbit, who has been accepted to Presbyterian College’s pharmacy program and is hoping to hear from the South Carolina College of Pharmacy at MUSC any day. “I feel a lot more confident about me as a writer. Now I’m working on perfecting my style of writing. I don’t feel so negative about it anymore.”

Nesbit, who was a resident mentor while at USC, says more students should get to know the Writing Center.

“No matter what level of skill you think you have or where you are in the writing process, they can take you further than you would be able to sitting at home looking at the same page again and again,” Nesbit says.

Not surprising, Stowe says the biggest challenge for anyone is writer’s block. His remedy is writing what he calls a zero draft, a draft that no one will see but lets a writer say anything just to get ideas flowing. His also suggests writers allot time for stepping away from an assignment and revising it.

“All of us need help with writing,” said Stowe who has worked at the Writing Center for seven years. “I’m passionate about this kind of work. I really love training tutors and working with students. My favorite thing is brainstorming and developing the thesis or argument.”

Established in 1975 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Writing Center is located on the seventh floor of the Byrnes Building and has four satellite offices in Sims, Columbia Hall and Bates House residence halls and the Student Success Center at Thomas Cooper Library. While appointments are preferred, they will accommodate walk-ins.

The Writing Center also offers workshops on a variety of topics, and its 803-777-2078 phone number also serves as a writer’s hotline for anyone to ask pesky grammar, usage and style questions. They’ve even been known to settle a few office debates.

Find out more online.

The Writing Center

  • Helps students, faculty and staff with writing projects at any stage of development
  • Byrnes Building, 7th floor
  • Office and hotline: 777-2078
  • Website:
  • Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 9 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Friday
  • Satellite locations: Sims, Columbia Hall and Bates House residence halls and the Student Success Center. Hours: 4 – 7 p.m. Monday – Thursday

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Posted: 02/15/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 02/17/13 @ 7:13 PM | Permalink