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Writing Courses

faculty and students


Department chairs are central in encouraging faculty to offer writing courses at all levels of the curriculum and supporting faculty in the process of course development and approval. Department chairs are responsible for ensuring that existing writing courses meet the stated criteria and for overseeing the process of creating new writing courses in their departments. All approved writing courses are listed on the Registrar's Web site.

The process for approving writing courses is as follows:

Already approved writing courses

  • As departments plan/schedule course offerings each semester, department chairs should confirm that courses in their department already designated as writing courses meet the guidelines, or help faculty revise them so that they do. Chairs must ensure that existing writing courses meet the guidelines. This is especially important in cases in which new faculty are hired to teach previously approved writing courses or faculty have significantly revised a course.

New writing courses

  • Department chairs should oversee the development and approval of new writing courses within their departments.
  • Department chairs should share the guidelines below with all faculty who would like to develop writing courses and work with them, as needed, to address the criteria. Chairs can suggest that faculty make use of resources — other faculty, Alba Newmann Holmes in the Writing Associates Program — that can be helpful in developing a writing course.
  • Department chairs must submit requests for new writing courses to the Curriculum Committee by the Friday before October break for spring courses and by the Friday before spring break for fall courses. The request should include a syllabus and answers to the questions provided in the "Request for approval of a writing course" information provided below. Only chairs can submit requests for approval to the Curriculum Committee.
  • The Curriculum Committee will review requests immediately after fall and spring break to ensure that approved courses are designated writing on the course lists available to students at the time of registration. Late requests will be accepted on a case by case basis; please contact the Assistant Dean for Academics Programs to make a late request.

Criteria for Writing Courses

A Writing Course at Swarthmore should offer students the opportunity not only to practice their composition skills, but also to consider through the class the approaches that make writing effective and compelling. These criteria will be used by the Curriculum Committee in the process of approving writing courses.

  1. The College criteria for Writing Courses specify twenty pages of writing (including drafts and final drafts) and a clear emphasis on revision.  Many courses hold similar objectives.  What distinguishes a Writing Course from others with similar expectations is a focus on the process of writing. Hence, courses designated as a Writing Course must have students use feedback to revise their work. Feedback may include responses to both content and writing. Other practices may include: nested or incremental assignments; peer review; conferences dedicated to assessing the students’ progress; opportunities for self-reflection. Raw laboratory notes or journal observations do not qualify, nor does one term paper at the end of the semester.
  2. Each Writing Course will emphasize building an argument through such skills as establishing a thesis, organizing a series of observations, offering evidence in substantiation, exploring counter-arguments, articulating a reasonable and significant conclusion, and establishing a formal or informal tone, as appropriate to the discipline.  In case of an existing course, this emphasis on process normally entails cutting back or reframing the subject matter to ensure that the faculty member and the class will have ample opportunity to explore the writer's strategies and skills.

Additional Policy Guidelines for Writing Courses

  1. Writing courses will have priority in the allocation of Writing Associates, although being a writing course will not guarantee assignment of a WA.
  2. W courses may be limited to 15 students, with departmental approval. Those willing to work with larger numbers are welcome to do so.
  3. Writing may be in English or in a foreign language.
  4. Creative writing does not fulfill the requirement.

Request for Approval of a Writing Course

With these goals in mind, the Curriculum Committee would like to receive three documents from faculty members seeking approval for a Writing Course:

  1. A syllabus for the course, ideally detailing reading assignments, writing assignments, and additional projects, allowing the committee to perceive the relationships and the balance among these elements of the course. In addition, the syllabus should include writing goals among the course objectives.
  2. A list and description of writing assignments for the course, allowing the committee to trace goals, specific emphases, and developmental progressions.
  3. A statement detailing how each of the criteria for Writing Courses will be met or addressed by the course, allowing the faculty member to explain goals and strategies not immediately apparent in the syllabus or list of assignments, and allowing the committee to understand more fully the faculty member’s logic in developing the writing elements of the course.