Improve your writing - ask a coach! Image: Flickr - Drew Coffman

Improve your writing - ask a coach!

A new phenomenon in the Faculty of Science: Writing Coaches! In this article we explain who they are and how they can help you to improve your writing process.

We can probably all relate to the feeling of being a bit lost when first approaching a writing assignment. First-year university students are often expected to write according to the demands of academic writing without first being taught how writing at the university level differs from writing at the high school level.

The challenges encountered during the writing process naturally vary from person to person as does the nature of those challenges. While some might need help with improving their academic writing skills, others might be struggling with what is known as writing apprehension. The latter refers to feelings of nervousness and anxiety towards writing. These negative experiences are quite common amongst students at all levels and are commonly attributed to a lack of confidence in writing ability. In addition, a lack of time to dedicate to writing activities as well as a lack of skills in utilizing scholarly resources can intensify these negative feelings. Nonetheless, there are many ways in which writing-related problems can be overcome. Constructive feedback, particularly from fellow students, has been shown to help learners progress with confidence. Peer feedback is believed to encourage students to become more involved in their own learning process by assuming both the roles of an examiner and examinee. Moreover, it might also be easier to receive feedback from someone who understands the common struggles associated with academic writing as they themselves are still going through that learning process.

Following the success of student writing coaches within the Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University has decided to also offer students from the Faculty of Science access to this free resource. A total of ten students following a science-related degree, either at an undergraduate or graduate level, have been hired and trained in non-directive coaching in order to assist fellow students with the process involved in academic writing. Typically, during a 45-minute-long one-on-one session, the writing coach and the student will discuss a draft, written by the latter. Once the main issues have been identified together, a strategy will be developed to help the student. Non-directive coaching is based on the concept of minimalist tutoring and consists of encouraging students to engage with their own learning process by taking initiative. According to this hands-off approach to coaching, the student writing coach assumes the role of a guide rather than that of an editor, since the focus is on improving the student’s writing skills and not just their paper.

Flickr Sharon Drummond
Image: Flickr - Sharon Drummond

A collaboration between coach and student

Manouk, one of the student writing coaches from the Faculty of Science, remembers, following one of her coaching sessions, her student’s surprise at how much he learned during that session. She added that being able to help someone develop their own potential felt very fulfilling.

Another student writing coach, Florian, noticed that one of his students lacked confidence in their own writing skills, which caused feelings of stress around writing. During the coaching sessions, Florian and his student figured out together that having a complete example text as a reference, instead of just a few guidelines and short examples, would have made the assignment less abstract and therefore probably easier to approach with confidence.

One more student writing coach, Siemen, emphasizes the importance of providing a welcoming and non-judgemental environment to fellow students seeking help. Besides the more technical problems, which differ from one student to another, Siemen noticed that the students especially appreciated being able to discuss the more general challenges they have encountered during their studies. Having a genuine conversation about these with another student might help them become more receptive to new solutions and feel motivated towards their studies. So, the writing coaches can help improve not only your writing skills, but also your study experience.

If you would like to develop your writing skills or would like some peer feedback on a writing assignment you have been working on, do not hesitate to book a session with one of our coaches. The problems you are encountering do not necessarily need to be directly related to writing, as long as they affect the writing process. Our coaches are dedicated to providing you with a safe space and the support you need regarding your writing. Finally, we hope to help you develop not only your writing skills but also more generally yourself.



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