Editor’s note: We would like to thank Professor Takeshi Kawamoto for providing the piece. If you would like to introduce your center to our global audience, let us know by email!
A view of the center outside the central library
The Hiroshima University (HU) Writing Center was established in 2013. Located inside the HU Library, it is operated by the library and the URA Division, Department of Research and Academia-Government-Community Collaboration. At the HU Writing Center, most staff members are Japanese and conduct one-to-one consultations: three faculty members, a writing advisor fellow, and about 10 graduate student tutors, including one international graduate student. Before tutors start working, they take a specialized class, and receive a 2-day pre-training. They also join a regular weekly training.
The center supports students in both Japanese and English academic writing of class assignments, essays, bachelor’s and master’s theses, doctoral theses, and research proposals and also faculty members in writing research papers in English. It also organizes and facilitates seminars, writing groups, and retreats to support research (Araki and Miyokawa, 2021). Most of the Japanese clients are first-year undergraduate students worried about handling unfamiliar report tasks at HU. For example, Hiroshima University asks every student to write a report linked to world peace. In addition to Japanese students, many international students also come to the center for assistance in writing in Japanese. Among the international students, most are graduate students who need assistance in writing in Japanese because about half of them at HU write their master’s theses in the language. Before starting on their theses, they need to prepare presentations to give to their supervisors and other graduate students. In many cases, the international students come for one-to-one consultations to improve their Japanese writing skills.
Although our tutors are well-trained and highly skilled in giving advice on academic writing, there is some mismatch between what the student requests and the service the tutor provides (Miyake, et. al., 2021). In general, the center has a strict policy—tutors are not allowed to conduct a grammar check. We believe that the policy was imported from American universities. In the one-to-one consultations, rather than checking the students’ Japanese, our tutors give advice on the logical flow and overall structure of their papers. Such incompatibility notwithstanding, there are some repeaters who understand the center’s policy and manage to glean effective advice from the consultations—they understand the importance of logical flow and standard structures for essays or academic papers, and can rewrite their manuscripts according to the advice given. Another common problem is caused by students coming for consultation too late. First-timers to the center often come just before the deadline; it can then become difficult to change the overall structure of their manuscript according to the tutors’ advice because they do not have enough time to rewrite their paper.
One reason for the mismatch mentioned above is that academic writing education is inadequate in Japan and other Asian countries. Although the center’s faculty members also hold classes on both Japanese and English academic writing, it is not enough to educate many of HU’s students. Therefore, more faculty members need to understand the basics and necessity of this education, and give students appropriate guidance. The education system in Japan seems biased toward the transfer of knowledge. Many Japanese believe that students should learn state-of-the-art technologies in the classes, instead of expressing ideas in writing. There is an urgent need for education that encourages students to think for themselves, find problems, investigate them, and present their conclusions with the support of evidence.
One of the most important purposes of the center is to encourage faculty members to write research papers in English. The English skills of HU’s faculty members are relatively poor as most of them are not native English speakers. I believe that acquiring English writing skills with a special focus on papers in a particular research field is the most effective way to learn how to write research papers in English. To that end, I am conducting an analysis of papers based on individual research fields such as experimental life science (Kawamoto and Ishii, 2021).
Since April 2020, most classes at HU are being conducted online. Accordingly, all our services, including one-to-one consultations, are provided online as well. However, this shift to the online format has significantly reduced the number of these consultations with the tutors. While I do not know the exact reason for this, I am worried that many students at HU may have lost the interest and motivation to improve their writing skills, because they are stressed about their future in the present COVID-19 situation.
Araki, H. and Miyokawa, N. (2021). Development of the Hiroshima University Writing Center: From an administrative perspective. In N. Miyokawa. (Eds.), Opportunities and challenges of English academic writing education in Japanese universities, Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University, in press.
Kawamoto, T. and Ishii, T. (2021). How to write the Introduction of biomedical research articles: Move analysis of the first and last sentences. In N. Miyokawa. (Eds.), Opportunities and challenges of English academic writing education in Japanese universities, Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University, in press.
Miyake, H., Kawamoto, T., Kaneko, H., and Umeki, R. (2021). Connection of clients’ original requests and negotiated session goals in Hiroshima University Writing Center. WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship, in press.
About the author
Takeshi Kawamoto (standing on the right) is Professor and Associate Director of the Hiroshima University Writing Center. He and his colleagues Hidenori Miyake, Haruo Kaneko, and Riko Umeki co-authored “Connection of Clients’ Original Requests and Negotiated Session Goals in Hiroshima University Writing Center”, which is available in the WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship, Jan/Feb issue 2021.