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Criteria for Writing Intensive Courses

The original Writing Across the Curriculum Committee (2001) specified that courses designated as Writing Intensive courses must meet the following criteria:

  • They call for substantial writing.
  • They offer multiple writing assignments.
  • They expect revision of work.
  • They provide students with learning opportunities through critical feedback.

The criteria for writing intensive courses were deliberately left flexible by the original Writing Across the Curriculum committee, to provide maximum freedom for innovation and experiment by individual faculty members teaching Writing Intensive courses. Note, for example, that there is no fixed page count: the exact definition of “substantial writing” depends on the instructor and the conventions of the particular discipline.

The requirement of “multiple assignments” is meant to preclude the type of course where a “term paper” is tacked on to the end; a writing intensive course should integrate writing into the heart of the course. Writing across the curriculum means that “writing to learn” is just as important as “learning to write”: the purpose of writing assignments is not just to give students practice at writing, although that’s very important; well-designed writing assignments can help students to master the course material at a more detailed and dynamic level.

The requirement for “revision of work” is meant to ensure that instructors pay attention to the students’ process of writing, not just the finished product. There is broad consensus among researchers and teachers of writing that the most effective writing instruction finds ways of intervening in the incremental stages of students’ writing.

The requirement for “critical feedback” is related both to this objective of improving the students’ writing process, and to the objective of using writing as a tool for mastering the course material. The instructor needs to complete the feedback loop with the student several times during the semester.


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