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Writing workshops: Get help for your term papers

Writing a term paper isn't always easy. If you are uncertain about how to write a solid academic text in German, you get help at almost every university in Germany – at so-called "writing workshops".

by Florian Schubert

Group of international students © Hagenguth/DAAD
Group of international students . © Hagenguth/DAAD

When should you visit a writing workshop?

Writing workshops (or writing centres) are specialised in providing help with all matters related to term papers. Perhaps you still don't know what to write about. Or maybe you can't find any books or articles on your topic, or you've come across an especially difficult article, but don't know exactly what to do with it.

The staff at the writing workshop can help you with the very first stages of your term paper. Perhaps you need help preparing your topic so that you can structure it in more detail with your instructor and clarify further questions.

Students frequently seek help because they lack experience with time management. Often, they wait too long before starting their term papers and, therefore, feel stressed and worried that they won't be able to hand them in on time. The purpose of writing workshops is to help you deal with such difficulties.

How does a writing workshop function?

Almost every university has a writing workshop. At large universities, like the University of Hamburg, there are several writing centres you can go to. These are divided by schools, as the requirements for term papers differ depending on one's subject of study, e.g. with regard to writing style or methods for citing references.

Workshop © Hagenguth/DAAD
Workshop . © Hagenguth/DAAD

There are several writing centres at the University of Hamburg. Many lecturers collaborate with the writing workshops. So if you don't know which one to go to, ask your lecturer! And if you're uncomfortable with having your professor or lecturer know that you are going to a writing workshop, don't worry. Everything discussed there is treated confidentially.

Writing workshops usually offer three types of services.

Personal advising

Personal advising is the most important part of a writing workshop. You can make an appointment with a writing advisor any time of year – both at the beginning or the end – and discuss your writing problems in person.

You have no idea what to write about? You're not sure how to get hold of a certain book or don't know how to quote correctly? Or maybe you have a problem, but don't know exactly what it is? During your advising session, you can find a solution. You may ask anything that has to do with term papers. If you know what your topic is, or if you've already begun writing, you and your advisor can work specifically on developing what you have.

The important thing to remember is that there's no "secret recipe", in other words, no perfect way to write a term paper. Everyone goes about it differently and has different concerns. And that's why the advising is personal – because it varies from person to person.

Group work © Hagenguth/DAAD
Group work . © Hagenguth/DAAD

Coaching

You can receive "term-paper coaching" all year round, even when you're not working on a term paper. In these classes, you get the chance to learn the ropes of writing good term papers, for example, various ways to research and quote secondary literature. To find out what coaching classes are being offered, visit the website of the corresponding writing workshop. There are only a limited number of spaces, so make sure to sign up early!

Writing groups

Proofreading, i.e. checking for spelling and grammar mistakes, is the one thing the staff at the writing workshop cannot do. This kind of work can be done in so-called "writing groups", which are study groups, where students meet together and help each other with their term papers. While the writing advisors can only offer you an hour of their time, you and your writing group can get together as often and as long as you want.

The writing workshop in Hamburg offered the following advice for writing good term papers: Read as many German texts as you can, in particular, academic articles. This can quickly give you a sense of the kind of writing style used in term papers.