Why Have Students Write & Where To Start

Basic Principles

  • Writing is a complex skill developed only through constant practice, particularly practice involving audience feedback and the chance to reshape writing in light of that response.
  • In order to help students develop into good writers, PLNU needs professors from all disciplines to assign writing, to grade the competence of that writing, and to return writing with comments that can help students either rewrite the original piece or write better for the next paper. End-of-term papers only assess final student outcomes, but papers done throughout a course work effectively to improve writing and thinking skills.
  • Because writing is thought made visible, professors from disciplines other than English composition can pursue their own course goals through work on student writing.


Why include writing in my course?

  • According to current classroom research, writing helps engage students in their classes, increases their sense of intellectual challenge and intensifies their interest in course material.1
  • Research shows that students learn better in courses where they have to write. Writing is a powerful tool to aid deeper learning and integration of learned material with previous knowledge.
  • Writing is a skill that all our students need.


What professors outside of English composition need to know

  • What skills taught in Freshman Composition are most important to reinforce?
  • What assignments can get students writing without drastically increasing a professor’s workload?
  • How can a professor grade papers without the task becoming an overwhelming burden?
  • What assignment preparation and follow-up will empower students to do their best work?
  • What characterizes writing-intensive courses in other disciplines?  

What do students learn in Freshman Composition?

  • General Principles of Writing
    • Audience and purpose determine the content, style and even mechanics of a written piece.
    • Process. Good writing develops through a process involving careful reading, creative imagining, thoughtful planning, writing, feedback, and rewriting.
  • Structure and Development of Thought
    • A good paper should have a clear thesis stated early in the paper.2
    • A writer should have several main points that serve to prove the thesis.
    • A good writer should support points by logic and by concrete examples taken from sources whose nature will depend on the discipline.
    • A strong paper will offer a recognition and rebuttal of objections.
    • Papers asking for analysis and evaluation must move beyond mere summary of fact.
  • Documentation of sources and plagiarism
    • All sources must be documented, even textbooks, Internet and oral interviews. Writers must acknowledge a source every time they use ideas from it, even if they do not quote the source directly but only allude to it.
    • Different disciplines subscribe to different style conventions for footnotes, in-text references and bibliography. Students should always follow the standards of the discipline for which they are writing.
  • Academic style should be used in all academic papers
    •  Academic writers should avoid slang and colloquial expressions.
    • Academic writers should use clear, precise vocabulary without indulging in jargon
    • Academic writers know the difference between frequently confused words, such as the following:
      • there, their, they’re
      • here, hear
      • it’s its
      • your, you’re
      • effect, affect except, accept, expect
  • Grammar
    • Issues of primary importance: complete sentences, agreement of subject and verb, agreement of nouns and pronouns.
    • Issues of secondary importance: correct use of verb tenses and forms, correct use of the apostrophe, variation of sentence structure and vocabulary.

1“The relationship between the amount of writing for a course and students’ level of engagement—whether engagement is measured by time spent on the course, or the intellectual challenge it presents, or students’ level of interest in it—is stronger than the relationship between students’ engagement and any other course characteristic.” Richard J. Light, “Writing and Students’ Engagement,” in Writing and the New Academy. Peer Review, Vol. 6, No. 1.
2 If the writer does not state his thesis early, he should at least imply it by a clear consistent direction made evident from the beginning of the paper.