Doing it Write at McGill: New Writing Centre to Serve Entire University

2011-2012 Issue 1

How important is good writing in the Twitter and Facebook era? Can today’s students easily make the transition from texting to essay writing? How do you write for an academic or professional audience? The brand-new McGill Writing Centre (MWC) is ready to help answer questions like these, while supporting many key writing activities, both inside and outside the Roddick Gates.

Located in the McLennan-Redpath Library and officially open since September, the MWC offers a large number of writing courses that were previously given by different units, including the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Education. As well, the Centre will expand the scope of writing support at the university into areas such as workshops, individual tutoring and online resources.


Dr. Sue Laver, Director, the McGill Writing Centre

Dr. Sue Laver, Director, the McGill Writing Centre

Over a year ago, the Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) commissioned an in-depth review of many writing centres and programs at North American institutions such as Purdue University and the University of Alberta. Dr. James Archibald, Director of Translation & Written Communication and a member of the MWC steering committee, notes that “The study clearly indicated that a writing centre could offer services of enormous value to McGill.”

The University chose the School of Continuing Studies as the administrative home of the MWC because it has strong ties with McGill faculties and schools, regularly offers specialized writing courses, and has extensive translation, language-teaching and intercultural expertise, as well as partnerships and outreach initiatives with numerous organizations, professional orders and associations.


The MWC’s primary activities – courses, workshops and tutorials for undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students – will put the emphasis on enhancing students’ writing techniques rather than just pointing out grammatical errors. “A large part of our focus,” Archibald continues, “is to foster the solid writing skills that every student needs to succeed at university and that individuals require in their professions.”

Dr. Sue Laver, the MWC’s Director, notes that by far the most common problem that students experience is the difficulty of transforming their ideas and insights into an organized and coherent piece of writing. This is the case, Laver points out, for undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students alike, whether they are anglophones, francophones or allophones. Laver encourages students to “take MWC courses as early in their university career as possible. They need to make sure they can write clearly and coherently, regardless of their program or intended career. Learning to write well really does increase your chances of academic and professional success.”


The MWC offers writing-across-the-curriculum courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels for both native and non-native speakers and writers of English. As well, many faculty-specific courses are available for students in disciplines such as engineering, social work and nursing. Based on her meetings with faculty
representatives over the past six months, Laver anticipates increased demand for courses designed to enable students to meet the communications expectations of their future employers.

At the graduate level, students can benefit from taking courses in which they can work on a chapter of their thesis. As the MWC evolves, it will also offer graduate workshops and seminars tailored to assisting graduates and post-docs in specific areas. Laver points out that graduates and post-docs who seek assistance with their academic writing are also likely to see an improvement in the quality of their grant applications.

Given the School of Continuing Studies’ historical focus on writing for specific purposes, the MWC will continue to offer courses for fields such as public relations and management, which both help professionals succeed in their current jobs and enable them to move into new areas. Other offerings may include courses in specialty areas such as scientific and technical writing, depending on the needs of the marketplace.


MWC Faculty Lecturer Carolyn Samuel and student

MWC Faculty Lecturer Carolyn Samuel and student

Since it’s located in the McLennan-Redpath Library, the MWC is close to important resources such as liaison librarians, who can help students and instructors find publications that will enhance their writing and research activities. As well, the MWC will consult with experts from Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) on the best instructional practices and latest teaching technologies. To help graduate students with their writing needs, the MWC will collaborate with SKILLSETS, a professional development initiative of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) and TLS.

Laver is encouraged and excited by the level of interest in the Centre and the range of possibilities ahead. “The launch of the MWC has stimulated lots of contact and a clear desire for cooperation and collaboration. We are consulting with faculties, departments, instructors and student organizations, and we are already in the process of adapting existing courses, developing faculty-specific courses and exploring the possibility of co-teaching with subject-matter experts.”

While some faculties and units may continue to offer their own writing courses, Laver says that “the MWC can also provide advice and support for them if requested.” Through all these laudable activities, Laver is confident that over time, “The MWC will contribute significantly to McGill’s recognition as a world-class institution.”


In addition to running both credit and non-credit courses, the MWC will offer workshops and seminars on relevant writing topics that will appeal to students who may not have the time to take a semester-long course but still need writing support. As well, in the near future the Centre plans to launch a one-on-one tutoring service for students who require more immediate and personalized assistance with specific writing issues or assignments.

Another important feature of the Centre will be a dynamic online presence. The MWC’s website ( will list all available writing courses and also include pertinent information and links to online writing resources at McGill and beyond. Laver says that the website will add an important dimension to the Centre’s role, “especially for students who do not have time to drop by the Centre or who are busily dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s outside our opening hours.”

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