“To write is to render knowledge as language. […] In one’s studies, writing is a training ground for independent and critical thinking.”1
These days, whoever stresses the importance of writing in the university context—as did Otto Kruse, one of the pioneers of the discipline of composition studies—is kicking at an open door. For the discipline of writing has long since become a fixture in everyday student life—even at arts universities. Writing is an important tool for learning and for the further development of knowledge. But even so, it’s often the case that writing isn’t thought about particularly much; it’s taken for granted and assumed to be a skill that was already acquired through one’s compulsory schooling. This frequently has the effect of overloading students—for authoring academic texts requires not only an understanding of one’s content but also knowledge about types of text and rhetoric as well as an understanding of the writing process and the community of discourse in which the writer is involved. It’s hence the case that, at many universities, there now exist writing centres that make an important contribution to writing didactics: they help students to develop their writing skills by placing writing as a process front and centre—independent of specialised disciplines and outside of exam situations.
Before this backdrop, 2020 saw the ub.mdw become Austria’s first music library to found a writing centre: here, the librarians have joined forces with qualified writing trainers Anna Eberhöfer and Barbara Fuchslehner to offer not only individual writing-related coaching but also workshops on various topics. In the academic citation course Zitieren kompakt, for example, students practice referencing sources, while a kick-off workshop for authors of final papers and theses emphasises skills related to planning and structuring as well as various writing techniques and writing tips. Alongside this, the Writing Centre also offers courses on reference management software and has teamed up with the Centre of Competence for Academic Integrity and the hmdw to hold regular Write Nights at the library.
The writing coaches themselves, however, view individual consulting as their main emphasis. After all, writing consists of more than just correct orthography and the employment of proper citation practices. What’s more, learning how to do it all requires that students gather experience in academic writing from the get-go, thereby developing strategies for how they go about writing as an overall process. Music programme curricula frequently afford matters like these little space. Writing consultations, which take place in private, provide students with opportunities to pose questions in a non-judgmental setting plus swift support in all phases of text production, ranging from time management to research and structuring of the literature and on to feedback concerning finished sections of text.
It should likewise not be overlooked that writing is also a personal process, a process strongly dependent upon one’s individual writing biography. And while an erroneous citation can be quickly corrected, other writing-related problems are a bit harder to eliminate. “Lots of students come to us for their initial writing consultations with a bad feeling,” says Barbara Fuchslehner. “They’re dissatisfied with their texts, thinking that they don’t sound ‘academic’—and they fault themselves. We’re typically able to put them at ease fairly quickly by making it clear to them that writing is a process in which you work towards your finished text in small steps that may also include occasional setbacks.”
Knowing how to move through this writing process, how to remain motivated and skillfully avoid inhibitions, is a matter of practice and can be learned. And the job of the Writing Centre is to accompany students in this process of learning, to show them how they can overcome initial hurdles and find their own voices with help from various writing techniques. Once the students reach a point where they view writing no longer as an annoying obligation but as something meaningful, thanks to how it enables them to connect existing knowledge with their personal worlds of ideas and experiences, the two writing consultants view their mission as having been fulfilled.
All dates and further information as well as abundant materials and writing tips can be found at: bibliothek.mdw.ac.at/schreibzentrum