Frequently Asked Questions about HWC Tutoring

A major resource the Hixon Writing Center offers Caltech undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs is the ability to discuss their writing with a professional or peer tutor. Talking with a writing tutor opens up crucial learning opportunities. These conversations are of use not only when students are struggling, but also when they simply wish to improve their work as writers or get support with a high stakes writing task.

This FAQs page addresses the questions that Techers typically have about making an appointment with us.

What tutoring services do you offer?

The HWC currently offers two types of writing tutoring. First, drop-in tutoring with our peer tutors is offered Monday-Thursday on the ninth floor of Millikan. To use this service, just stop by and ask for help. Next, our writing specialists (professional tutors) offer tutoring sessions by appointment. These meetings are available M-F between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. See below for details about booking an appointment.

How do I make an appointment with a HWC writing Specialist?

We use a platform called WC Online to allow students to schedule, modify and cancel appointments online. To access WC Online, sign in to access.caltech.edu and select "Writing Center Scheduling." If you need assistance scheduling an appointment, you can email us.

Why would I visit a peer tutor or writing specialist?

The Hixon Writing Center offers students one-to-one appointments with professional and peer tutors. You might meet with a tutor for many reasons. We frequently see students at all stages of the writing process, from brainstorming to preparing an essay for submission. Here are a few common reasons students work with us:

  • to generate ideas for what to write about
  • to develop a strong central argument for an essay
  • to work on organizing ideas so that they are easy to understand at the sentence, paragraph, and essay level
  • to discuss how to work effectively with the writing and ideas of other thinkers
  • to talk about the visual rhetoric of a poster or other non-essay forms of writing
  • to work on sentence-level clarity and correctness
  • to talk about a type of academic writing that is new to the student

You can bring any writing-related concern to a session with a writing center tutor, with the exception of fellowship and study abroad applications, which should be discussed with the office of Fellowship Advising and Study Abroad

Who does the tutoring?

The HWC has two kinds of tutors--peer tutors and writing specialists. The peer tutors are all undergraduates selected for their outstanding writing skills; they all receive extensive, ongoing training to become effective tutors. The writing specialists are professional tutors with advanced degrees and college-level teaching experience. We have two types of writing specialists--generalists and STEM writing specialists. You can read staff bios on our People page.

I want to see a professional tutor. Should I make an appointment with a STEM or Generalist Writing Specialist?

Our Writing Specialists are all professional tutors with advanced degrees in their fields and experience teaching communication at the college level. You can make an appointment to talk with either a Generalist Writing Specialist or a STEM Writing Specialist.

Our Generalist Writing Specialists have graduate-level expertise in English, writing, and communication. They are experts in rhetoric and academic writing who can help you write evidence-based essays, build persuasive arguments, write in academic English, and improve your writing confidence within all writing genres and disciplines. The generalists have a broad familiarity with varied writing practices in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and applied sciences.

Our STEM Writing Specialists have advanced degrees in STEM fields and therefore have additional content expertise and experience in addressing specific challenges faced by scientific and technical writers. Those challenges include presenting data or complex methods clearly, making quantitative arguments, creating effective visual elements (e.g. figures, tables), writing highly technical prose for expert readers, and explaining the significance of your research to audiences of differing backgrounds. We do not recommend bringing work in the humanities or qualitative social science to our STEM writing specialists, as these disciplines are outside their areas of specialization.

You can learn more about our Writing Specialists by reading their bios. Make sure to book your appointment with the appropriate Writing Specialist to match your current needs.

What does a tutoring session involve?

A tutoring session is, most basically, a conversation about your writing. Each session looks different depending upon the goals that the writer brings to the conversation. Typical sessions involve activities like brainstorming, reading aloud, discussing your ideas, posing and answering questions, looking at models, or doing some writing. You should expect to be an active participant in this conversation, and we encourage you to tell your tutor what you hope to get out of the session. From our perspective, every session we have has two basic goals: to improve your current work-in-progress and to promote your overall growth as a writer.

How do I prepare for a meeting? Will you read my paper before we meet? What should I bring?

The best way you can prepare for a meeting with a tutor is to consider what you would like to learn from the conversation. If you can begin the session by explaining to the tutor what you want to write, what challenges you're encountering, and what you want to learn, we can quickly begin talking about those goals.

When you make an appointment in our scheduling software, you'll have the option to attach a draft if you have one. (The very final screen confirming your appointment offers this option, and you can attach a draft later by clicking the yellow file folder icon at the top of the scheduler. You can also email a draft directly to your tutor.) We will make every effort to review the draft in advance of our meeting with you, and the earlier you submit a draft the better chance we have to review it. However, a tutor may not always have time to review your draft before the appointment, and they may not be able to read long papers in their entirety. Tutoring sessions can be productive whether or not prior review of a draft occurs.

If you're working on an assignment for a class, bring a copy of the assignment itself. Bring a printed copy of any drafting you've done so far. (It is not necessary to have a draft written yet to have a productive session.) You can also bring your laptop if you feel it would be useful.

Who can meet with a tutor? 

We welcome Caltech undergrads, graduate students, post-docs to work with our tutors and writing specialists. Undergraduates receive priority in scheduling appointments, which may mean that it will be difficult for others to get an appointment during peak usage times (usually mid-terms and finals). We cannot assist writers outside the Caltech community.

How long are appointments? How often can I meet with a tutor?

You may make appointments for either 30 or 60 minutes. In reality, appointments will last either 25 or 50 minutes, as tutors need brief breaks between meetings.

We love to have students visit us regularly! However, to ensure availability for all members of the Caltech community, we currently limit users to a maximum of 60 minutes a day and 120 minutes a week. If there are open appointments, we may be able to accomodate requests for additional meetings.

How much writing will we cover in a single appointment? Should I book 30 or 60 minutes?

Since the goals and focus of each session are different, there is no way to definitively answer this question. A 30 minute session is usually appropriate when you have one specific, limited question to discuss or just want to look at 1-2 paragraphs. If you want to work on more than 1-2 paragraphs of writing, make a 60-minute appointment. In general, you should not expect to cover more than 2-3 pages per 30 minutes with a tutor. If you're working on a long paper or project, it's ideal to start early and schedule several sessions if you want help with the entire draft.

Sometimes people want to make appointments for a quick question that will take less than 30 minutes to discuss. It's fine to book a 30-minute appointment in these cases.

Where do appointments occur?

The Hixon Writing Center is located in the Center for Student Services (Bldg. 86), 3rd floor North. Appointments that occur M-F before 6pm will occur in that space. Our evening drop-in session, staffed by peer tutors, happen on the ninth floor of Millikan. Look for us in the southeast corner.

I can't make it to any of your regularly scheduled hours; can I still meet with a tutor?

Usually, yes. We know Techers are busy people. Email us to ask for an appointment at a time that works for you, and we'll do our best to set one up. The more advance notice you give us, the more likely it is that we will be able to accomodate your request.

How do I sign up to attend a workshop or presentation the HWC is offering?

This page is about one-to-one appointments with our staff. You'll find information about the presentations we give and workshops we conduct here.