Writing Seminars

Writing Seminars (WR 100) and Writing and Research Seminars (WR 150) are offered on topics from across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.  Although they differ in content, all sections of WR 100 and WR 150 have the same core goals and lead students through similar sequences of writing assignments.

In all sections of WR 100, students develop their abilities to

  • craft substantive, motivated, balanced academic arguments
  • write clear, correct, coherent prose
  • read with understanding and engagement
  • plan, draft, and revise efficiently and effectively
  • evaluate and improve their own reading and writing processes
  • respond productively to the writing of others
  • express themselves verbally and converse thoughtfully about complex ideas.

In WR 150, students continue developing these abilities while working intensively on prose style and learning to conduct college-level research.

In all sections of WR 100 and WR 150, students must fulfill the following requirements:

  • a self-assessment, in which the student takes stock of his or her abilities and establishes personal goals for the semester
  • three major papers (15-20 pages of finished writing for WR 100; 20-25 pages of finished writing for WR 150)
  • additional exercises as assigned
  • at least one individual conference with the instructor
  • attendance and participation
  • a final portfolio consisting of selected examples of the student’s work and an introductory essay in which the student reflects on and assesses his or her progress toward the course goals and the personal goals established in the self-assessment.

Craft substantive, motivated, balanced academic arguments

Argumentation is the first of our goals because written arguments are the currency of intellectual exchange in the academy. Although students will be asked to write in a wide variety of ways as they move through the undergraduate curriculum, many if not most of the papers they write will be written arguments. We teach students that making a good argument involves more than just asserting and supporting a strong thesis or claim. We want students to understand that the purpose of most academic arguments is not to “win” but to further some “conversation.” In less metaphoric language, we want students to understand that the goal of most academic arguments is to further the collective understanding of some body (real or imagined) of interested if perhaps skeptical readers. Because most academic arguments are responses to positions others have articulated, we place a strong emphasis on acknowledgement and response. Throughout WR 100 and WR 150, students practice summarizing the arguments of others, recognizing their strengths and insights, and responding with arguments of their own. We also teach students that academic arguments generally address problems or questions that some audience will care about—or that some audience can be persuaded to care about. It is not enough simply to have a claim; claims become meaningful only in the context of the problems or questions that motivate them. For this reason, we teach students to articulate explicitly the problems or questions that motivate their arguments, most often in their introductions.

Write clear, correct, coherent prose

Most people understand “good writing” to be writing that is perceived to be clear, correct, and coherent, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph. Consequently, throughout the latter half of WR 100 and throughout the entirety of WR 150, usage and style are major emphases. We teach usage and style in a range of ways: by teaching grammatical and stylistic principles that allow students to identify and revise sentences that are unclear and to control the flow of information from sentence to sentence; by using grammatical and stylistic terms and concept to analyze passages in readings; by working intensively with students on their own writing, both in class and in conferences and comments. Our goal is not merely to get students produce papers that are free of error but to help them write fluidly and even elegantly, with a sense of purpose and voice.

Read with understanding and engagement

Good writing depends on good reading, and WR 100 and WR 150 are as much courses in reading as they are courses in writing. To succeed as college-level writers, students must be able to understand and summarize what they read, and they must be able to respond to ideas they encounter in their reading with reasoned arguments of their own. Understanding should provoke engagement; engagement requires a foundation of understanding. Students work with a wide variety of primary materials in our courses, but we especially want them to develop their abilities to read sustained prose arguments. The aim is not to inundate students with professional scholarship but to help them learn and practice a kind of reading with which they are often unfamiliar and which they will be required increasingly to perform as they advance through the undergraduate curriculum. Most incoming freshmen have at least some experience reading literature, but fewer have experience reading the kind of extended arguments that are the intellectual currency of the university and of professional and civic discourse. For this reason, we ask students work with both primary and secondary sources from the very beginning of the course sequence.

Plan, draft, and revise efficiently and effectively

Writing is not a single thing; it is a complex process encompassing a range of activities, including (but not limited to) developing ideas, planning, drafting, organizing, and editing, performed not serially but recursively. Moreover, while the writing processes of most adept writers have some general features in common, no two people go about writing in precisely the same way. With their strong emphasis on revision, WR 100 and WR 150 help students develop writing processes that work for them, processes that students can rely on to produce strong papers in a range of contexts.

Evaluate and improve your own reading and writing processes

Students’ college-level educations in writing begin rather than end with WR 100 and WR 150. These two courses, typically taken in the freshman or sophomore year, cannot prepare students for every reading and writing task they will face in college and beyond. But they can provide students with a strong foundation, and they can teach students to adapt to the different circumstances they will face in the future. We want students to become their own best critics and coaches.

Respond productively to the writing of others

Most adept writers do not work in isolation but share their writing regularly, in its formative stages, with readers they trust. Also, much writing in the academy and in professional contexts is collaborative. For these reasons, students in WR 100 and WR 150 learn both to give useful feedback to their peers and to make good use of feedback from their peers. Feedback need not always take the form of criticism or advice; responses from readers are also tremendously useful when taken simply as information about a text’s reception. In WR 100 and WR 150, students learn as readers to provide clear and specific information about their responses to texts, and they learn as writers to consider and respond to such information in their own revisions.

Express themselves verbally and converse thoughtfully about complex ideas

WR 100 and WR 150 are often students’ first college seminars. These courses, consequently, are responsible for introducing students to the nature of college-level discussions and their attendant protocols. In addition, many sections of WR 100 and WR 150 require students to give more formal presentations about their ideas and work. Our courses thus also teach important skills of presentation and elocution. In a true conversation, participants listen as much as they speak. Listening, like speaking, is an ability students can develop and refine. In WR 100 and WR 150, students receive ample opportunity to use and practice both of these abilities.

Book a Writing Consultation

Writing Consultants are available for all CAS WR classes. Appointments can be booked online.
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Graduate Writing Fellowships

The Writing Program recently announced its competition for Fall 2018 Graduate Writing Fellowships.
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Fall 2017 Catalog

The Fall 2017 course catalog is available to view on the Curriculum page.
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