Writing-Intensive Courses: Perfect Your Skills Across the Curriculum

Tyson Schritter / Join the Community »

Reviewed and edited by Tyson Schritter : 06 July, 2024.

Rather than evaluate progress using multiple choice exams, writing-intensive courses require critical thinking skills 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.

The Importance of Writing-Intensive Courses

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.

Types of Writing-Intensive Courses

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 creative writing through plays, novels, or screenplays, research projects, senior theses, or other written capstone projects within a student’s major.

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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 while they master writing in 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.
    This allows students more freedom in how they learn to write — they can choose from classes where faculty are teaching creative writing or get help with writing in a subject not covered by the general education requirements or their major.
    Expanding the available courses on campus to allow for a more individualized path to graduation is key to keeping students engaged in the material.
  • 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, and helping them transition to the level of analysis required in higher education.
  • 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.

Expectations in Writing-Intensive Courses

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.

Assignments and Evaluation

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. Each stage of the writing process helps students perfect writing skills and improve student performance in college and beyond. 

Diverse Writing Styles

Every academic field demands unique writing styles. Engineering courses may emphasize technical writing, while English courses focus on creative writing. Integrating writing across curricula ensures students are prepared for professional environments where effective communication and critical thinking are paramount.

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 courses generally, require students to think more critically and possess a deeper understanding of college 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.
Fostering these relationships can facilitate brainstorming sessions to ensure students are picking the best topics to write about. Students in writing classes are more likely to get to know their classmates and help each other succeed.