Using Research to Inform Theory and Practice:

As part of our mission to contribute to the intellectual and creative activities of the university, the Writers Workshop engages substantially in writing center and writing studies research. This robust scholarly activity takes place in a variety of ways, including via undergraduate and graduate courses on writing centers and writing tutoring (taught by Dr. Carolyn Wisniewski); via collaborative studies conducted by the Writers Workshop’s administrative team; and via empirical research projects led by our current and former consultants. Across our scholarship, we seek to cultivate knowledge aimed at informing writing center theory and practice, both in our local context and through presenting our work in local, regional, national, and international conference venues.

We’re Currently Researching:

Online Writing Tutoring

While recent writing center scholarship often discusses online tutoring, there exists a lack of empirical work that actually compares one-on-one tutoring across face-to-face and online sessions. Informed by writing center scholarship on online tutoring—namely Wolfe and Griffin (2012) and Neaderhiser and Wolfe (2009)—current and former Writers Workshop consultants Lisa Chason, Dorothy Mayne, Tom Carreras, Logan Middleton, Allison Kranek, and María Carvajal Regidor, along with Carolyn Wisniewski, are in the process of researching how tutoring practices in face-to-face compare and contrast with such synchronous, online consultations. In carrying out our mixed-method comparative approach, we aim to add to existing scholarship and to improve our own writing center pedagogy. As such, it’s our hope that our findings will shed more light on the workings of online and face-to-face tutoring and help us to better train Writers Workshop consultants in our local, institutional context.

We have recently extended this research program to investigate the efficacy and feasibility of embedding an online writing fellow within online sections of first-year composition.

Embodied Action in Writing Center Tutorials

Bruce Kovanen, a Center for Writing Studies PhD student in the English department, is currently conducting research in the Writers Workshop for his study titled, “Interactive Organization of Embodied Action in Writing Center Tutorials.” This research seeks to draw writing center studies scholars and practitioners’ attention to a wider range of semiotic activity beyond talk—including gesture and embodiment—in writing center tutorials.

Novice Writing Teachers’ Development of Effective Response Strategies

Dr. Carolyn Wisniewski, Director of the Writers Workshop, is continuing her research “Novice Writing Teachers’ Development of Effective Response Strategies,” which examines how graduate instructors from across the disciplines learn about and provide response to student writing.

Beyond Consultants and Writers: Present Others in Graduate Writing Sessions

Allison Kranek and María Carvajal Regidor, Writers Workshop Consultants and former and current Assistant Directors, respectively, are collecting and analyzing data to understand the roles that figures such as teachers, advisors, tutors, and peers (what they call present others) play in one-to-one sessions between graduate writing consultants and graduate writers.

Undergraduate Research in WRIT 300: Issues in Tutoring Writing:

Every fall, undergraduate students in WRIT 300: Issues in Tutoring Writing complete small-scale, empirical research projects as part of their training to work in the Writers Workshop. Previous student research has touched upon topics as varied as engineering students’ motivations for writing center use, how multilingual students’ language backgrounds impact perceptions of tutorial success, and how directive and non-directive tutoring practices take shape in writing center talk.

Example flyer for undergraduate student presentations            Example flyer for undergraduate student presentations

Our undergraduate students have also gone on to present this work via UIUC’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, which takes place in April of each year, as well as at national conferences and in writing center journals.

Undergraduate researcher at poster presentation
Carolyn Wisniewski, Director, and Brendan McGovern, undergraduate consultant, next to Brendan’s poster at the 2019 Undergraduate Research Symposium

National and Local Conference Presentations:

“Comfort, Confidence, and Chinese International Students’ Reactions to Scaffolding Strategies in the Writing Center” (Sarah Patrick) at the 2019 International Writing Center Association Annual Conference

“‘It is just as effective and much easier’: A Comparative Study of Face-to-Face and Synchronous Online Tutoring” (Carolyn Wisniewski) at the 2019 International Writing Center Association Annual Conference

“Beyond Tutor and Writer: Figures ‘Present’ in Writing Center Consultations” (María Carvajal Regidor and Allison Kranek) at the 2018 Gesa E. Kirsch Graduate Student Symposium

“Influences of Writing Center Tutoring on Disciplinary Teaching Assistants’ Response to Student Writing” (Carolyn Wisniewski) at the 2018 Conference on College Composition and Communication

“Implementing and Assessing Synchronous Online Writing Tutorials” (Dorothy Mayne, María Carvajal Regidor, Lisa Chason, Logan Middleton, and Carolyn Wisniewski) at the 2017 International Writing Center Association Annual Conference

“A Mixed-Method Study of Face-to-Face and Synchronous Online Tutoring” (Carolyn Wisniewski, Allison Kranek, and Evin Groundwater) at the 2017 International Writing Center Association Annual Conference

“First-Visit Students’ Pre- and Post-Session Perceptions of the Writing Center” (Olivia Buck) at the 2017 International Writing Center Association Annual Conference

Example undergraduate research poster
Laura Bjankini’s poster on The Effects of Questioning as Educational Scaffolding in Writing Center Conferences

Awards and Grant Funding:

Dan Zhang was awarded a Winter 2020 Ben Rafoth Research Grant by the International Writing Centers Association to support her study “Expanding the Discourse: Embodied Communication in Writing Tutorials.”

María Carvajal Regidor was awarded a 2019 Future Leaders Scholarship by the International Writing Centers Association to recognize her leadership skills in writing center research and administration.

Carolyn Wisniewski and Kristi McDuffie were awarded a 2019 Provost’s Faculty Retreat Grant to support “Innovative Student Learning through Embedded Online Writing Support,” a collaboration between the Writers Workshop and Undergraduate Rhetoric Program that integrates online writing tutoring within the newly developed online RHET 105 course.

Bruce Kovanen was awarded the 2018 Ben Rafoth Graduate Research Grant by the International Writing Center Association. This grant will help fund Bruce’s study “Interactive Organization of Embodied Action in Writing Center Tutorials.”

Carolyn Wisniewski was awarded a 2018 research grant from the Council of Writing Program Administrators for her study “Novice Writing Teachers’ Development of Effective Response Strategies.”


Olivia Buck, a University of Illinois alumna and former Writers Workshop consultant, has published “Students’ Idea of the Writing Center: First-Visit Undergraduate Students’ Pre- and Post-Tutorial Perceptions of the Writing Center” in The Peer Review (2018).

Sarah Patrick, a Writers Workshop consultant alumna who majored in journalism and creative writing, will publish “Chinese International Students’ Reactions to Tutor Talk: Using Scaffolding Strategies to Support Language Acquisition in the Writing Center” in Praxis: A Writing Journal (forthcoming).

Workshop Assessment:

The Writers Workshop is in the midst of a three-year assessment cycle in which the workshop’s administrative team is working to (a) isolate and describe the center’s core values, (b) develop assessment instruments to measure aspects of said core values, and (c) work toward assessing the efficacy of these values—how they’re being enacted through one-to-one writing consultations. Through this assessment, the workshop hopes to speak to both internal and external stakeholders, both charting new avenues for training, professional development, and training as well as making a case to outside administrative audiences for the importance of the Workshop on campus.

Additionally, the Writers Workshop has partnered with the UIUC Undergraduate Library Research Libraries in an ongoing collaborative research effort studying our joint Research-and-Writing (RAW) Consultations. This work hopes to better understand the dynamics and efficacy of our RAW sessions and seeks to develop practical outcomes for implementing cross-institutional programming and pedagogy.

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