Writing-Emphasis Designation Criteria

In December 2019, CAPC approved a new set of criteria for writing-emphasis courses, which are provided below. All courses designated writing-emphasis and all courses seeking writing-emphasis designation should clearly meet this minimum criteria:

  1. WE courses engage students in multiple and significant writing experiences. WE courses should provide at least three types of writing assignments including both formal writings (such as a paper or report) and informal writings (such as a critical thinking exercise or short writing leading up to a formal writing).

    1. Tip: Informal writing can come in a variety of forms and doesn’t always require grading (visit the Informal Writing Resource page for ideas). Informal writing can be small in-class or out of class exercise that help students learn course concepts (e.g. “Write a 200-word explanation of bio-accumulation”). Informal writing can be a helpful step in developing a larger paper (e.g. “Select and annotate five scholarly sources on your research topic”). Informal writing can also be a focused development of a section of a larger paper (e.g. “Please draft a 300 word conclusion to your final paper and bring it to class for discussion).
  2. WE courses provide students with instruction in discipline-specific thinking and writing. WE courses should include lessons focusing on writing in a discipline (i.e. styles, genres, types of evidence, types of argument, and citation practices valued by a discipline), and the syllabus should make clear (for example, in the course calendar) that these lessons take place throughout the course.

    1. Tip: It’s important that in addition to noting in your syllabus that you’ll be assigning writing, you also note how and when you’ll be teaching Ideally the course calendar denotes days in which class wide conversations about writing will be held. For example, as students are working toward the development of a lab report you might schedule a day where you discuss what great science writers due in the “Methods” section of their reports. You might also schedule time to discuss with students what’s valued in the writing they’re expected to do in your class. Rather than creating a rule, such as “Don’t use ‘I’ in your paper”, schedule time to discuss why the use of third-person helps researchers maintain objectivity.
    2. Tip: Students have been studying the general rules of writing for most of their education. Areas where students have had very little instruction, however, are the specific conventions of writing in your discipline and/or their future professional fields. The primary focus of a writing emphasis course should be to help students learn the specific conventions of your academic discipline in addition to continuing to practice general writing effectiveness.
  3. WE courses encourage peer and instructor intercessions in student writing processes (planning, outlining, drafting). WE courses should help students understand and participate in the many steps (brainstorming, researching, pre-writing, drafting, revising) that lead toward a final writing product (papers, reports). The syllabus should make clear that intercessions in student writing processes are taking place in the course.

    1. Tip: Faculty intercession in the student writing process can be either a submitted work for a grade, such as requiring the submission of an annotated bibliography; or, a workshop or exercise that doesn’t require the assignment of a grade, such as requiring students to show you an essay outline in class.
  4. WE courses encourage the revision of student writing products (papers, reports) based on instructor feedback. WE courses should help students improve their writing abilities by requiring them to revise or re-write a work that has been scrutinized by their instructor (this can be a first draft or a graded draft), and the syllabus should make clear which assignments will be returned for revision with instructor feedback.

    1. Tip: Researchers in fields such as education, literacy, and writing studies have learned that the primary way in which students improve their writing abilities is to have the chance to re-write something they’ve previously written in response to instructor feedback. This can include instructor commentary on a rough/first draft of a paper. This can also include the opportunity for students to re-write work on which they’ve already received a grade (e.g. “This is a C paper, but could be improved with attention to the following….”). You can visit the Providing Feedback on Student Writing resource page for more information. In some cases, students can improve their writing based on peer-feedback, especially when general (as opposed to discipline specific) commentary is being sought. It’s important to keep in mind that peers may know how to give general feedback on issues of grammar, how engaging an introduction may be, whether an idea is being expressed clearly etc. Peers likely do not know, however, more specific issues of how proper citation in your field/discipline, the unique ways that writers in you discipline makes claims/arguments, and stylistic moves and preferences that writers in your field make in discussing disciplinary content.
    2. Tip: It’s important that instructors not try to comment on everything of note in a student draft. There is simply not enough time to provide hours worth of commentary of every work of student writing; and in addition, it is unlikely that students will be able to make meaningful improvements in key areas of writing if they have dozens of comments to address. Instead, consider the creation of a reader role for each assignment and make clear to students how and why you’ll be reading their work in that role. For example, you might read as an area specialist to ensure they fully understand course concepts and comments can be based on where that understanding is on and off track. In another assignment, you might read as a hypothetical employer or customer and makes notes about clarity, style and grammar. Importantly, you should avoid the common feeling in the teaching of writing that you must be the students’ copyeditor and publisher. Instead focus in on the writing moves most important to you and provide constructive feedback in those areas.
  5. WE courses should adhere to the CAPC recommendation (“Class Size Policy,” October 30, 2014) that WE courses limit student enrollment to 25.

    1. Tip: If existing writing-emphasis courses also happen to be courses that have high enrollments, your program or department curriculum committee(s) might consider whether some of the traditionally low-enrollment courses (such as senior seminars) might be a better fit for writing-emphasis designation than the existing course. This is just one way to improve the satisfaction of teaching a writing-emphasis course for faculty and creates the time and space for meaningful instruction and feedback.
  6. WE  course syllabi should designate writing assignments associated with General Education Goals 1 & 2 as candidates for upload to the ePortfolio.

    1. Students will create an ePortfolio throughout their undergraduate coursework and reflect on these experiences in their senior year. Designating writing assignments for upload to the ePortfolio will save a record of their written work from your class, which is then available for them to reflect upon as they near graduation. If a single assignment is associated with goals one and two then that single assignment can be designated for upload; but, if there are different assignments for each goal then both assignments should be designated for upload to the ePortfolio. 
  7. WE course syllabi include a clear statement that the course is an approved Writing-Emphasis General Education course, and will focus on writing and thinking conventions in the discipline under study.

    1. Tip: This should appear early in the syllabus. Here is an example statement: “This course is an approved general education Writing Emphasis course that counts toward the required completion of three writing emphasis courses in the general education curriculum.”
  8. WE course syllabi should make clear the percentage of the final grade to be derived from writing assignments.

    1. Tip: This should be noted in the portion of the syllabus that details final grade break down. A good rule of thumb is that a significant portion of the course grade (>50%) should be derived from writing in a writing-emphasis class. Another good rule of thumb is that no single writing assignment should count for more than 30% of students’ final course grade.
  9. WE course syllabi should include a clear statement of at least two general education goals that the course is designed to meet, two of which must be Goal #1 (communicate effectively) and Goal #2 (think critically and analytically).

  10. WE course syllabi should make clear how assessment of goal-associated student learning outcomes (SLOs) will take place. Faculty can choose among SLOs for Goal 1: Communicate effectively and Goal 2: Think critically and analytically are as follows:

GE Goal 1 SLOs (pick one or more):

a. Express oneself effectively in common college‐level written forms (please name at least one assignment that will do this if this SLO is selected and designate for ePortfolio)

b. Revise and improve writing and/or presentations (please name at least one assignment that can be revised if this SLO is selected and designate for ePortfolio)

c. Express oneself effectively in presentations (please name at least one assignment that will do this if this SLO is selected and designate for ePortfolio)

d. Demonstrate comprehension of and ability to explain information and ideas accessed through reading (please name at least one assignment that will ask students to explain something they comprehended from a reading f this SLO is selected and designate for ePortfolio)

GE Goal 2 SLOs (pick one or more):

a. Use relevant evidence gathered through accepted scholarly methods, and properly acknowledge sources of information, to support an idea (please name at least one assignment that will do this if this SLO is selected and designate for ePortfolio)

b. Construct and/or analyze arguments in terms of their premises, assumptions, contexts, conclusions, and anticipated counter‐arguments (please name at least one assignment that will do this if this SLO is selected and designate for ePortfolio)

c. Reach sound conclusions based on a logical analysis of evidence (please name at least one assignment that will do this if this SLO is selected and designate for ePortfolio)

d. Develop creative or innovative approaches to assignments or projects (please name at least one assignment that will do this if this SLO is selected and designate for ePortfolio)

  1. WE course syllabi should include an instructor-generated learning objective for the course that emphasizes student learning about the specific writing conventions of the respective discipline, and, where appropriate, the general conventions of writing.

    1. Tip: General Education goals/objectives are different from course goals/objectives, which you design yourself as the course instructor. Be sure that in addition to noting general education goals “Communicate effectively” and “thinking critically and analytically” that your “W” syllabus notes your own goals for the development of student writing. For example: “Students will learn about the unique writing expectations of criminal justice students and improve their ability to write and think in the criminal justice field.”
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