About Writing Intensive Courses

A recent American Association of Colleges & Universities survey found that 90% of employers view the ability to communicate effectively in writing very important or somewhat important. Writing intensive college courses offer students the opportunity to build these essential skills. 

In writing intensive courses, writing is both an essential component of student learning and the dominant means of evaluating students' performance in the class. The Association of Departments of English (ADE) stresses that in writing courses, "the development of writing skills is the primary goal of the course, not the means of evaluating other knowledge acquired in the course." Students in writing intensive courses produce the equivalent of at least 15-20 pages of word-processed written work as part of the overall grade, but just as importantly, instructors establish a structured revision process with regular and timely feedback on students' writing process and written work. 

Why design Writing Intensive courses?

Writing intensive courses recognize the critical role of writing skills in preparing students' for the future. They further recognize that effective writing requires intentional engagement with the audience and rhetorical situation as well as guided practice in developing iterative and complex writing processes. Requiring a great deal of writing in a course is not enough to achieve the goals of writing intensive courses. Following the principles of the Conference on College Composition & Communication (CCCC), USC Upstate ensures that our writing intensive courses expose students to theories of writing across and within disciplines and guide students to apply those theories in their own work. 

Students in writing intensive courses enjoy the luxury of dedicated time to improve critical thinking, rhetorical strategies for analyzing and responding to audiences, organization, language and grammar skills, research, and evidence. Writing intensive courses do not take for granted students' grasp of the nuances of stylistic or disciplinary conventions; instead, students are able to practice their writing skills in a supportive environment where they can revise and respond to feedback before polishing their work for a final grade.

Course Design Considerations

Writing intensive courses require at least 15-20 pages of word-processed written work as part of the overall grade, though students may produce many more pages in the form of drafts and scaffolded pre-writing assignments. It is important to set aside time within course meetings or online assignment schedules to provide instructor and peer feedback on stages of writing prior to the final submission. Due to the intensity of personalized, growth-oriented feedback required in writing intensive courses, the ADE recommends an enrollment cap of 20 students, with no more than 25 enrolled in upper-division, writing intensive courses. 

The design of a writing intensive course is a delicate balance between writing instruction, practice, and feedback and the other disciplinary content within the course. One would not expect to find a traditional lecture format used in writing intensive courses. Instructors may find active learning and flipped learning strategies aid in meeting the course design demands of a writing intensive upper-division course within another discipline.

Writing intensive courses include instructional materials and evaluate student learning in the following areas: 

Rhetorical Elements

The Council of Writing Program Administrators' (WPA) Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing identifies rhetorical knowledge as the "basis of good writing." Writing intensive courses reinforce the view of writing as a social act, not merely an act of self-expression. Students in writing intensive courses practice understanding and analyzing audiences, genres, contexts, purposes, and conventions for specific types of writing. Writing intensive courses may provide instructional materials, textbooks, or other resources to define these and other key rhetorical concepts, or they may ask students to derive those definitions together through the analysis of authentic texts similar to those that the students will be asked to produce. 

Textual Analysis and Sample Texts

Reading written texts is an important element of writing intensive courses, and substantial course time may be spent exploring sample texts by professional or student writers to better understand effective (or ineffective) writing strategies. Producing written textual analysis (formal or informal, long or short) is often part of the scaffolded work leading to the students' final writing project(s) in writing intensive courses. By writing about or engaging in intensive discussion of other texts, students develop the ability to evaluate the quality of thought, evidence, and rhetorical strategies in written work. 

The Writing Process

Writing intensive courses slow down the stages of the writing process and allow students to improve and refine their approach to generating ideas, researching, organizing, drafting, getting feedback, revising, editing, and proofreading. For every final written product the students complete for assessment, they will typically complete several pre-writing assignments that engage every stage of the writing process. These steps may be completed in teams, groups, pairs, or individually, but the course design should provide for timely feedback throughout the process to allow students to strengthen skills before the final project is due.

Assignments that invite students to engage in self-assessment and reflection on their writing process contribute to growth and improvement, especially when accompanied by peer feedback and/or feedback from the instructor. The use of targeted rubrics, such as the AAC&U VALUE rubrics for Written Communication or Critical Thinking, can help to streamline the feedback process (see Resources below). 

Writing intensive courses demonstrate the value of the writing process by ensuring that process-based work contributes to the students' grades. For instance, a writing intensive course would be unlikely to assign a quiz or test on the same day as a scaffolded writing assignment, such as an outline, concept map, abstract, annotated bibliography, or similar work. 

Writing in Context

Writing intensive courses make explicit the conventions of disciplines, media, genres, and writing/publishing technologies in order to develop students' skills in writing effectively for a given context. Students may spend time learning conventions of citation and documentation, techniques for formatting in web-based applications, or expectations for required elements in a particular genre of text. Students may demonstrate their ability to identify and apply conventions by analyzing other texts, by creating rubrics for evaluating the use of conventions, or by producing work addressed to the conventions of a designated context.