Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric and Technical Communication (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Humanities


Nancy M Grimm


Writing centers work with writers; traditionally services have been focused on undergraduates taking composition classes. More recently, centers have started to attract a wider client base including: students taking labs that require writing; graduate students; and ESL students learning the conventions of U.S. communication. There are very few centers, however, which identify themselves as open to working with all members of the campus-community. Michigan Technological University has one such center.

In the Michigan Tech writing center, doors are open to “all students, faculty and staff.” While graduate students, post docs, and professors preparing articles for publication have used the center, for the first time in the collective memory of the center UAW staff members requested center appointments in the summer of 2008. These working class employees were in the process of filling out a work related document, the UAW Position Audit, an approximately seven-page form. This form was their one avenue for requesting a review of the job they were doing; the review was the first step in requesting a raise in job level and pay.

This study grew out of the realization that implicit literacy expectations between working class United Auto Workers (UAW) staff and professional class staff were complicating the filling out and filing of the position audit form. Professional class supervisors had designed the form as a measure of fairness, in that each UAW employee on campus was responding to the same set of questions about their work. However, the implicit literacy expectations of supervisors were different from those of many of the employees who were to fill out the form. As a result, questions that were meant to be straightforward to answer were in the eyes of the employees filling out the form, complex. Before coming to the writing center UAW staff had spent months writing out responses to the form; they expressed concerns that their responses still would not meet audience expectations. These writers recognized that they did not yet know exactly what the audience was expecting.

The results of this study include a framework for planning writing center sessions that facilitate the acquisition of literacy practices which are new to the user. One important realization from this dissertation is that the social nature of literacy must be kept in the forefront when both planning sessions and when educating tutors to lead these sessions. Literacy scholars such as James Paul Gee, Brian Street, and Shirley Brice Heath are used to show that a person can only know those literacy practices that they have previously acquired. In order to acquire new literacy practices, a person must have social opportunities for hands-on practice and mentoring from someone with experience. The writing center can adapt theory and practices from this dissertation that will facilitate sessions for a range of writers wishing to learn “new” literacy practices. This study also calls for specific changes to writing center tutor education.