Marks Family Writing Center a "Penn spotlight."

Helping Students to Write With Clarity

Most of us can benefit from a second set of eyes reading something we write.

At Penn, there’s a place to go to get constructive criticism for everything from a research paper written for a course to an article penned for a peer review journal.

The Marks Family Writing Center, part of the Critical Writing Program in Penn’s Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, gives students the kind of individual attention and feedback needed to write with clarity.

Established in 2009 through a generous donation from 1967 Wharton grad, investor, and writer Howard Marks, the Center has become a valuable resource for people seeking to improve their writing.

Center staff provide writing instruction in a supportive environment to Penn undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty can also turn to the Center to design and assess student writing assignments.

The Center is actively engaged in the community, tutoring area high school students to help them write more clearly and prepare to complete college application essays.

The Center is tucked on the upper floor of 3808 Walnut St., which houses Penn’s Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. Six days a week, students and tutors sit in comfortable, overstuffed wing chairs and couches or at desks to review written pieces and discuss grammar and sentence structure.

Valerie Ross, director of the Critical Writing Program, says that the tutoring staff and faculty is comprised of people with backgrounds in many different disciplines, “from biologists to engineers, to finance people to anthropologists.

“The advantages of having students and faculty from across the disciplines is that writing is very situated,” Ross says. “A great creative writer is not necessarily going to be a great science writer. Having those different voices keeps us aware and alert to that.”

The Center is particularly helpful to students enrolled in a critical writing seminar. Tutors in the Center, often students themselves, have been trained in the Critical Writing Program’s approach to the craft.

Two years ago, Pallavi Bakshi, a Wharton senior, trained to become a Center tutor to work with students looking for help with critical writing:

“People are afraid that they’re going to get a lot of negative comments back but really you’re going to get overwhelmingly positive or constructive comments,” Bakshi says.

Tutors work in the Center in one-on-one sessions that typically last 20-45 minutes. Both peer and faculty writing experts staff the Center, which offers walk-in hours and a ppointments Sunday through Friday, and also conducts workshops on campus.

Text by Jacquie Posey
Video by Chip Murphy

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