What is a Peer Writing Assistant?

Peer Writing Assistants (PWAs) at the Writing Centre are skilled upper-year and graduate student volunteers who enjoy helping others become better writers. They provide a vital component of our program, extending the service the Centre offers to students in developing their writing skills and confidence.

We are delighted to collaborate with the Queen’s Biology Department to also offer the Biology Peer Writing Assistant program. More information about this program is available from Dr. Barb Vanderbeld at vanderb@queensu.ca.

What do PWAs do?

PWAs are trained to work on-on-one with students taking first and second year courses, helping with clarifying the terms of the assignment, brainstorming, pre-writing and structuring, providing feedback, and directing students to the resources they need to produce good papers. For many students, this service makes a significant difference in their academic performance and confidence.

Sessions are always challenging, and no two are alike. They all, however, take a collaborative approach between the PWA and the student seeking assistance – i.e., PWAs do not proofread, or make writing decisions, for the students they help. Instead, they help students develop their own skills in writing, editing and critical thinking, in the context of working on a particular assignment.

PWAs also occasionally offer workshops on writing-related topics. Our program is evolving, and it is likely that new opportunities will arise in the near future.


I’m so grateful for my experience as a PWA. From the workshops, the training, and the support we received to the actual sessions with students, the program allowed me to help others while also strengthening my own skills (for example, I finally learned how to properly use a semicolon). Grammar is no longer as daunting as it first was when I joined the program. My favourite moments as a PWA came in sessions when I saw that an idea suddenly clicked with a student, and we’d both get really excited. Ending a session with a student knowing I’d really helped them was the best feeling. Because of my experience as a PWA, I was able to go into my publishing program with a renewed and strengthened confidence in my skills and abilities. My positive experience in the program has also opened me up to the wonderful and rewarding world of volunteering.”

Kirstie Turco, PWA 2014-2015 & 2015-2016


What kind of time commitment is required?

PWA sessions take place Monday-Thursday, 6:30-8:30 pm, and Saturdays 11:00 – 1:00 pm in four 25-minute sessions per evening. Currently, each PWA volunteers for two hours per week from mid-September to the end of November and from mid-January to the end of March.

In addition, we have an hour-long team meeting twice per term.

Training takes place:

  • in the summer: PWAs have short readings and online AODA training to complete (about 4-5 hours total)
  • on September 10, 2017: a full day of in-person training on campus (about 7 hours)
  • throughout the year: PWAs attend one or two hour-long sessions on topics related to their roles, and also choose two out of many possible additional sessions to complete over the academic year, to support their development (about 3-4 hours total)
  • online: PWAs complete a series of short lessons in grammar and style over the summer and fall term (about 8-10 hours).

Why become a Peer Writing Assistant?

Knowing that you’re helping others is a good feeling, but that’s not the only reason to become a PWA. You can also strengthen your own writing, editing, and communication skills, belong to a fun team of people from diverse faculties and backgrounds, and receive practical training in a variety of areas from professional staff. If you intend to pursue an academic, communications, or teaching career, this experience is a helpful addition to your CV, and perhaps a way to connect with professional staff who can challenge and support your growth and give you a great reference when you graduate.

How can I apply?


To apply, email Peer Coordinator Claire Hooker at Claire.hooker@queensu.ca with a resume, cover letter, and two pages of a recent academic writing sample.

  • Emailed applications are due by midnight, February 12th.
  • In addition to your emailed application, please also drop off a hard copy of your cover letter, resume, and sample of academic writing at the Student Academic Success Services reception desk (Stauffer Library) by noon on February 13th.

Applications are accepted in the Winter term (late January / early February) for team selection for the following September. We will sometimes accept applications at other times of the year, depending on programming needs, but we recommend you apply during our January / February recruitment period.

Please note that PWAs usually start volunteering with us in their third or fourth year; we also accept graduate students.

PWAs are required to provide a “vulnerable sector” police check, dated to within nine months of their start date, at their own expense.