Writing@Liverpool: Rolling out the pilot

Writing@Liverpool (funded by the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Faculty Improvement Fund) started as a small academic writing development project in History is now fully rolled out across the Faculty of HSS. The Faculty has generously funded 20 new Writing Tutors who are supported and mentored by last year’s Tutors – our four Super Tutors.

Here’s the stories from two of them:

Sophie’s Story:

Upon the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year, I was selected as part of a small team of PhD students to take part in a pilot initiative launched by the History department. The purpose of this project was for PhD students to support undergraduate students in improving their writing skills. As a pilot scheme, there were no frameworks or processes in place as to how we would proceed with the project; this provided a great opportunity for our small team to create a programme which we felt would be the most effective, but occasionally also raised its own challenges. Predominantly, our role consisted of meeting with students on an individual basis to discuss completed and marked essays with them; we would talk through the issues raised within their tutor’s feedback, provide guidance on how they might approach the essay differently next time, and suggest strategies to help them with their future assignments. We also led writing workshops, aimed to improve students’ understanding of the research and writing process from the stage they are given the essay title until the moment they submit their completed work.

While our students have been keen to tell us how they have benefited from our support. They told us:

“I found it helpful and appreciate the advice… I am sure I will find the group session useful as well.”

“Thank you very much for today’s session, I found it really useful and can definitely see places where I can improve in future essays.”

“Yesterday’s session was really helpful, I’ve been back over my other essays from my last semester and I think with the advice you gave me my essays should be better this semester!”

I have also certainly benefited from being a writing tutor. Being involved from the initial planning and implementation stages of such a unique project has aided my professional development immensely, while sharing best practice techniques with my fellow tutors has had the unexpected benefit of encouraging me to continue to re-evaluate and improve my own writing style. Being a writing tutor and working with a wide range of students from first to final year, international students and mature students, has also greatly increased my confidence when it comes to teaching. It has also made me more sensitive to the concerns of our undergraduates; I have been surprised by how easily we take for granted subject-specific terminology and ways of approaching assignments which many of us were not familiar with when we first began our own journeys as undergraduates.

I was proud to hear that our small pilot had been expanded to support students from across the Faculty, and the employment of a larger group of writing tutors. It will be exciting to see how the project continues to develop over the current academic year, and I am pleased that even more students will be able to benefit from the advice and support of the next generation of Writing@Liverpool.


Nick’s Story:

During the 2014-2015 academic year I was fortunate enough to be involved with the History Department Writing Tutors pilot project. Along with three other PhD candidates, my job was to help undergraduate History students improve their writing skills, develop essay writing techniques, and better prepare for exams. Meeting with students for individual and small-group sessions allowed us to develop guides and programmes that targeted students’ specific needs. Our main job consisted of looking over a student’s marked essay with them and helping them fix the problems addressed by their tutors. This allowed the students to not only better understand tutor feedback, but for them to figure out for themselves what they need to correct for their next project.

Part of the Writing Tutors project involved revising and shaping iLearn, the University of Liverpool’s online skills development resource. We were able to create a database to which students can turn in order to supplement their learning. The resource provides guidelines for essay preparation, sentence and paragraph structure, argument, among other aspects of academic writing, which we based largely on student feedback and what we learned from the individual sessions and workshops.

Aside from the benefits students have received from the programme, the Writing Tutors has been a valuable asset for my own academic and career development. It has widened my teaching profile, helped me to think about my own research and writing processes, and offered me the opportunity to develop university level programmes, all of which will help career prospects in the near future. I was proud to be a part of the pilot project and look forward to the continued development and expansion of the programme.

writing at liverpool 2
Above: some of our current writing tutors.

Writing@Liverpool sessions are available to all HSS students: they simply need to email writing@liverpool.ac.uk to book an appointment with one of our tutors. The tutors are also running a schedule of generic and discipline specific workshops, students can book onto these in the ‘Workshops’ tab in iLearn. Teaching staff are more than welcome to refer their students directly. Sarra Saffron Powell (Educational Development) is the Writing@Liverpool lead and co-ordinator: if you have any queries please feel free to contact me on sarrasaf@liv.ac.uk

Sarra Saffron Powell