Rather than evaluate progress using multiple choice exams, writing-intensive courses require critical thinking and evaluation through written essays and research projects. These courses focus on writing assignments within academic majors rather than gen ed courses, and provide essential practice in writing for students regardless of discipline.
Most of our schools require successful completion of multiple writing intensive courses to graduate. Other schools have instituted "writing across the curriculum," as Agnes Scott College puts it, where most courses have writing requirements.
Many writing-intensive courses require students to engage in critiques and revision as part of the coursework. Some academic programs realize the importance of developing strong writing skills, so they require research projects, senior theses, or other written capstone projects within a student’s major.
“Writing skills are back in vogue, as nearly everything is communicated through web pages, social media, and email marketing. In the Internet world, great writing skills can set you apart from fellow job seekers and keep you employed.” –Raj Sabhlok, President of Zoho Corp.
Examples of Writing-Intensive Courses
- Senior or Honors Thesis: For a thesis, a student writes a significant research paper. Often these are used as capstone requirements, and students must synthesize general knowledge with a specific question and report their findings.
- Methodology Course in Major: Many disciplines require a methodology course in data collection, archival research, observation, interviews, or hands-on practicums. As part of these courses, students may be required to submit written analyses of their research findings.
- Capstone Project: Similar to a thesis (and often synonymous), capstone projects come at the end of a student’s undergraduate degree. Although they vary by discipline, formats require students to summarize and analyze a question within their field.
- Elective Course in Major: Many schools now offer a handful of elective courses as writing-intensive classes, providing the same material as non-writing courses but with different assessment models.
- Freshman Seminar: Many freshman seminars are taught as writing-intensive classes, challenging students who may not have had much writing experience in high school to reflect on the course material through papers and in-class essays.
- Core/General Education Course: While it used to be uncommon, many universities are now offering some of their large lecture courses as smaller writing classes.
What Can Students Expect?
For many students, college means large lecture classes and multiple choice tests. Writing courses offer respite from these often impersonal learning environments by providing smaller courses with better student-to-faculty ratios. Students are better able to get to know their professor and classmates, and receive more individual instruction. Writing courses are almost always taught by faculty rather than graduate students, giving students yet another opportunity to get to know faculty as undergraduates.
In writing intensive courses, students may have in-class writing assignments, but the bulk of the grade generally depends on writing several short, or a few longer, academic papers. These may be reflections on required readings, critical inquiry into questions raised by the course material, or individualized research papers. In most classes, students should expect to give and receive peer critiques of their work, and to turn in one or more revisions of the original paper.
Many classes also work in close collaboration with campus writing centers, providing students with additional resources to improve their writing ability.
How Do Writing-Intensive Courses Improve Student Outcomes?
Frequent writing opportunities throughout students’ college careers ensure that they are exposed to different styles of writing and are forced to use written expression to answer questions about their major subject material. Writing generally requires students to think more critically and possess a deeper understanding of course material compared to standardized multiple choice or other testing.
Students in writing courses also learn how to give and receive feedback on their writing, and the value of doing so. The process of interacting with their instructor and their peers on this level helps to encourage accountability, interaction, and engagement in the classroom. Students in writing classes are more likely to get to know their classmates and help each other succeed.
How Schools Implement Writing Intensive Courses
Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA
Pepperdine offers a number of writing courses across academic disciplines. Many of their courses provide discipline-specific instruction in writing, allowing students to master the language and forms that their major field of study utilizes beyond the classroom. These students gain the skills they will need to pursue graduate school, careers in their field, and to explain discipline-specific issues and ideas in a general setting. Students also gain significant knowledge in the research, outlining, and editing process.
Young Harris College, Young Harris, GA
At Young Harris College, students can participate in Rhetorica: The Art of Writing and Speaking, which is an academic program that focuses on students’ communication skills. Throughout their college career these students take courses that involve significant oral and written elements, and in the course of a semester may write several papers or give oral presentations. The school’s Center for Writing and Speaking provides additional training and tutoring.