Many educational institutions maintain a writing center that provides students with free assistance on their papers, projects, reports, multimodal documents, web pages, et cetera from consultants. A key goal of any writing center is helping writers to learn. Typical services include help with the purpose, structure, function of writing, and are geared toward writers of all levels and fields of study. Writing centers attempt to provide non-proscriptive and non-corrective response, instead relying on a fuller explanation of why a piece of writing may fail to fulfill the writer's aims. The goal is to help a writer learn to address the various exigences that she may encounter with the realization that no writing is decontextualized and has specific audiences.
A writing center usually offers individualized conferencing whereby the writing tutor offers his or her feedback on the piece of writing at hand; a writing tutor's main function is to discuss how the piece of writing might be revised. However, the tutor usually does not proofread nor edit the student's work. Instead, the tutor facilitates the student's attempts to revise his or her own work by conversing with the student about the topic at hand, discussing principles and processes of writing, modeling rhetorical and syntactical moves for the student to apply, and assisting the student in identifying patterns of grammatical error in his or her writing.
Historically, writing centers in American universities began appearing as "writing labs" in the early 20th century . Elizabeth Boquet and Stephen North point to the origins of the writing laboratory as first a method, not a place, where "the key characteristic of which appears to have been that all work was to be done during class time" . This was to allow the student to compose with the teacher present, able to help with any revisions or questions the student may have. However, as class sizes and universities grew, Writing Centers began to develop as university institutions, often conceived of as an editing service for students. 
Some institutions also offer an Online Writing Lab (OWL), which generally attempts to follow the model of writing center tutoring in an online environment. These environments have been said to be a step toward a new model of writing centers, a model known as Multiliteracy Centers.  Another environment that could fall under this category is a physical space known as a Digital Studio.
While some institutions do not have writing centers, a number offer similar support through entities which have a wider remit. These might typically be called Academic Skills Units   or Learning Development Groups  
A recent movement in writing centers has been to provide services for the non-academic community. Such services include one-to-one response for out-of-school writers, and workshops on a wide variety of topics. Such writing centers are often identified as community writing centers.
Writing centers are not exclusively a post-secondary phenomenon. Some high schools have successfully created writing centers similar to the model in higher education.
No longer strictly an American phenomenon, writing centers have spread in other world regions as well. The European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW) is in part concerned with the study and advancement of writing centers in European universities. The International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) is committed to supporting writing centers from around the world, with current regional associations in Europe and proposed associations in the Middle East, South Africa, and the Far East.