Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of New Haven
Welcome to Writing Across the Curriculum

Welcome to Writing Across the Curriculum

Writing-Intensive (W) Courses: Overview

A Writing-Intensive (W) course is a class taught by a faculty member in his or her own discipline in which writing is considered a central mode of learning and evaluating student performance. The types of writing assigned in these courses can vary significantly—from lab reports to journals to blogs to formal research essays. In these courses, students will learn about the discourse conventions that are valued in the faculty member’s own discipline.

In higher education contexts, W courses are often part of either a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) or Writing in the Disciplines (WID) program, and the terms WAC and WID are often conflated. Researchers Chris Thaiss and Tara Porter (2010) established the following definitions:

  • WAC typically “implies an initiative in an institution to assist teachers across disciplines in using student writing as an instructional tool in their teaching” (p. 538)
  • WID “usually implies that writing is occurring in some form as assignments in subjects or courses in one or more disciplines in an institution; it also refers to research that studies the theory, structure, and rhetorical properties of writing that occurs in disciplines, whether in teaching the discipline or in disciplinary scholarship” (p. 538)

Our instantiation of WAC/WID at the University of New Haven is as follows: students who entered the University in the fall 2017 class (or whose degree program follows a catalog year starting in fall 2017 or later) are required to take a W course prior to graduation. The W course does not need to be in the student’s major, although students should be encouraged to take a W course in their major if one is available at the time the student selects to take a W course. It is important to note that a W course is a more writing-focused version of a class that, ideally, students are already planning to take. The W designation itself does not increase the credit value of the course, nor does the W necessarily add an additional course requirement to a student’s worksheet.


The WAC/WID movement began over 50 years ago in the U.S.  (Palmquist et al. 2020, p. 6) and is considered one of the most transformative and rapidly growing educational initiatives nationwide (Ad Hoc Committee, 2014).  In fact, the number of WAC programs between 1987 and 2008 increased by 1/3, according to a national survey of WAC/WID programs conducted by Thaiss and Porter (2010). The majority of the schools that have WAC/WID programs reported having writing-intensive courses similar to what we offer at the University of New Haven (Thaiss & Porter, 2010, p. 548).

Two of the most common reasons that institutions have created Writing Across the Curriculum initiatives are based on the following beliefs: (1) students’ writing skills will diminish if they do not receive further instruction and practice between first-year writing courses and graduation, and (2) students’ writing improves when they are engaged by the subject matter (Farris & Smith, 2000). Perhaps most importantly, though, writing enables critical thinking and learning and allows us to disrupt the “banking model” of education, Freire’s (1972) concept in which students are mere empty, passive receptacles into which their more knowledgeable teachers deposit information (p. 71). Another rationale for these courses is that students learn how to become members of an intellectual disciplinary community (ideally within their major) and learn how to communicate using the conventions common to that community.

At the University of New Haven, the exigence for W courses stems from a need for scaffolding writing education, spreading it out through a student’s tenure at the university, and grounding writing instruction in the disciplines. This initiative makes writing improvement a shared concern among all faculty and allows us to enhance the culture of writing on our campus and prepare our students for fulfilling life pursuits and careers.

Three Pillars of Our WAC Program

Informed by the Statement of WAC Principles and Practices endorsed by the International Network of WAC Programs and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (Ad Hoc Committee, 2014), our program is designed with the focus on three important pillars of WAC/WID:

  • Employing writing as a tool for learning
  • Engaging students in a process approach to writing
  • Teaching discipline-based writing practices

These pillars recognize that there are various methods to teach students about the value of writing in their learning and professional preparation.

Writing to Learn

Perhaps one of the most significant principles guiding writing-intensive courses is the concept of Writing to Learn. Put simply, a W course engages students in writing to learn—meaning, the teacher employs writing not simply as a tool for communication, but also as a tool for students to understand and reflect on course content. Quantitative research backs up the notion that

students learn course material better if they engage in writing.

Most of the time, writing-to-communicate and writing-to-learn are not mutually exclusive concepts. Used together, these practices can lead to critical understanding as well as discovery of new knowledge. Art Young (2006), the founder of Clemson’s well-known Communication-Across-the-Curriculum program, broke writing to learn and writing to communicate into the following categories:

Writing to Learn (WTL)

  • Discovery thinking
  • Writer-based prose (explaining something to yourself)
  • Audience: self and trusted others
  • Personal language in social community
  • Teacher as facilitator
  • Forms: journals, field notes, rough drafts, blogs

Writing to Communicate (WTC)

  • Critical thinking
  • Reader-based prose (explaining something to others)
  • Audience: distanced others
  • Formal language of discourse community
  • Teacher as professional
  • Forms: essays, reports, business letters, web publications

Young argued, “we can understand the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of explaining the matter to others before you have explained it to yourself” (p. 9).  As such, WAC encourages more writing-to-learn activities in order to improve written communication overall. Within the field of WAC, Writing to Learn (WTL) has become a methodology for implementing brief, low-stakes opportunities for students to practice writing. The activities typically pertain to course content but can also ask students to practice specific writing skills (tone, audience, conciseness, etc.). It’s important for teachers not only to assign these types of writing but also to understand that writing-to-learn assignments will not be satisfactory final drafts, as that is not their purpose.

WTL activities are typically short, informal writing activities. Here are a few examples:

  • The One-Minute Essay (Young, 2006): At the end of class, the teacher asks students to write for just a minute or two about the following: (1) What did you learn today? (2) What questions do you still have? Young states that a chemical engineering professor at Clemson collects these and responds quickly in writing to the students for the next class period. Other professors skim these and explain any issues that seem to be common across many students.
  • The believing/doubting game: Ask students to write briefly in support of a particular argument/thesis/methodology. Then, ask them to take the exact opposite stance (Elbow, 1973).
  • Problem statement: After introducing a new concept in your class, ask students to create a problem that the concept might help them solve and then explain the problem. Then, consider having students exchange their problem explanations and write solutions. (WAC Clearinghouse, Retrieved from http://wac.colostate.edu/intro/pop5j.cfm)
  • Mock tests: Have students write a test that would assess the class’s knowledge of a particular unit. Consider having them focus on writing short-answer or essay-question prompts.
  • Quote responses: Have students explain, summarize, or analyze a quotation from the homework readings and then discuss their responses as a class.
  • Writing carousel: Set a timer for approximately 1 minute. Each student has a slip of paper, and you assign the group a topic to write about or a problem to solve. The students begin writing a response, and when the timer is up (some instructors use music), have students rotate the paper to their right and pick up where their peer left off. Eventually, have the original student summarize the responses in a few sentences. In this activity, students are building knowledge and seeing how others address the same issue—while practicing their writing skills.

Lengthier WTL practices involve some of the genres below:

  • Discussion forums: Using discussion forums through sites such as Canvas is a common way to engage in writing to learn. For example, you may assign a reading and ask students to respond to a question you post about the reading. Discussion forums can allow students to reflect, think critically, build consensus, etc. It’s useful to be as specific as possible about your expectations. Do you want each student in the group to respond to your question, or do you want them to respond to one another? Do you have length expectations? Consider asking students to construct discussion forum guidelines with you. Here’s a useful resource for crafting questions: Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation (See page 5).
  • Journals: Many teachers require journals because writing about course material helps students learn, solve problems, and discover new questions. Some teachers ask for a minimum word count to be produced each week. Often teachers require the writing to be completed for homework, whereas others do journal writing in class. You can assign specific topics or give students some freedom to explore their own ideas.  You can ask for a half-page summary/half-page analysis of a chapter from a book, a painting, or an advertisement that students are studying. If you require them, the journals need to be “integrated into the fabric of a course” (Young, 2006, p. 17). You may not read every entry or comment on them all, as that would likely be too time-consuming, but you will want to treat them seriously and set expectations, making sure students use the journals to learn.

Tips for using WTL:

  • connect WTL assignments to your course goals
  • help students understand how these assignments will help them become better communicators
  • let students know how you will grade WTL activities, giving them details about how much they will be asked to write and how much you will actually read and comment on
  • consider how any given WTL activity connects to other assignments in the class

The current WAC/WID literature suggests that WTL activities should be as discipline-specific as possible. The literature also argues that the benefits of WTL are numerous, including helping students improve their writing and feel less anxious about a class subject. The authors of the book A Reference Guide to Writing Across the Curriculum (2005) have offered a few real examples:

1. Computer Science: A computer science instructor included micro themes—essays so short they can be written on a single note card—into her data structures class. The tasks included summarizing articles, generating a thesis based on data, and explaining the behavior of a novel algorithm to a peer. She found that these helped students learn and explain the complexities of the subject matter.

2. Nursing: Three professors introduced journal writing as an invention technique to help students prepare for a personal nursing philosophy paper they would write at the end of the course. Students were asked to take ten minutes at the end of a day of clinicals to reflect on their experiences. The researchers found that the resulting philosophies were “far superior to those written by other groups without this continuing experience” (Bazerman, 2005, p. 63).

3. Statistics: Two researchers conducted an experiment with 44 undergrads in two statistics courses, studying the effects of journal writing on students’ reported levels of anxiety about statistics. They found a significant decrease in anxiety toward the content among students who kept a journal.

Ultimately, as you create your course, think about ways in which students can use writing to learn and keep in mind that some informal writing assignments can be counted towards the word count requirement for the W course (see section on requirements). Remember, too, that It’s always useful to continually check in with students and ask them what they’re learning about their writing process as they participate in these activities. Also consider that one goal is to help students learn discipline-specific ways of making meaning through writing.

Engaging Students in Writing as a Process

In addition to employing Writing to Learn, teaching students to approach their writing assignments through a process is an essential component of WAC at the University of New Haven.  A process approach helps students to develop strong habits of producing revised writing, even in instances when they are writing under intense pressure to create reports or documents quickly as they might be in their career situations. While a process approach generally includes some form of initial idea development, drafting, and revising, the WAC approach highlights the notion that the writing process is recursive and often involves moving back and forth among stages of a process, especially when revision calls for a need to move back to additional drafting. For more on this core pillar of our WAC program, please see the section on writing as a process.

Reading, Researching, and Writing in the Disciplines

When students engage in more formal writing, the goal of W courses is still for students to understand how writers write in your field. In Engaging Ideas, a book many consider to be the ‘WAC Bible,’ John Bean (2011) recommends that faculty “show students how writing in the present discipline may differ from the writing they have done previously. Often teachers can develop short assignments to teach students how disciplinary experts incorporate evidence into an argument, whether in the form of textual quotation, field or laboratory observation, data analysis using tables or graphs, or other strategies” (p. 61). At the same time, he suggests that teachers “also stress what may be similar to what students did in first-year composition; show them what transfers” (p. 61). Often, teaching writing in the disciplines is simply about making what seems innate or obvious to you about the writing that happens in your field visible for students.

Yet, how do you make these conventions visible for students? You may or may not feel like you are an expert at writing, but you’ve likely written a dissertation in your field, or you’ve written a business proposal or a report in industry, for example. You’ve conducted research in your field. Often, certain communication practices that may seem obvious to you are not obvious to students. Think not just about how you write but how you read and how your logic operates. One strategy that some instructors find helpful is to compose writing along with their students. Instructors will complete the assignment at the same time as their students and take notes about the strategies they’re employing and the struggles they’re having. Showing students that even an instructor’s writing isn’t perfect or linear, but often messy and always recursive can be very empowering to the students. Oftentimes, using this approach is also helpful to just think about your writing process and describe it to your students.

Another approach is to engage students in analyzing models of texts from the discipline to identify and discuss the rationale for various conventions of writing.

As a W instructor, take any approaches that seem reasonable to you that help your students become not just critical readers, writers, and thinkers, but readers, writers, and thinkers who are using the reading, writing, and thinking strategies employed in your field. A useful book on this topic is Informed Writer by Charles Bazerman. Not only does the author offer strategies for writing effective summaries, analyses, reviews, and research papers across disciplines, but he also includes entire chapters on reading and writing practices in the historical sciences, observational and natural sciences, the experimental sciences, and theoretical disciplines. You can read the whole book on the web here: http://wac.colostate.edu/books/informedwriter/

Learning Outcomes

The following outcomes have been developed to help instructors think about the aims of W courses at the University of New Haven. These outcomes will continue to be developed based on faculty input and university assessment needs. At different times when these courses are being taught, different assessment items may be collected.

Program-Level Outcomes

Faculty teaching writing-intensive courses will do the following:

  • Help students participate in writing as a process
  • Assign tasks that engage students in writing to learn
  • Give students instruction and feedback on assignments related to higher-order concerns and disciplinary writing conventions

Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of a W course, students will be able to:

  • Employ the discourse conventions (style, format, organization, use of evidence, and citation expectations) of the discipline in all formal written work
  • Compose writing that reflects awareness of the rhetorical situation (audience, context, and purpose) of the document
  • Compose writing that is free from mechanical errors and clarity problems

W Certification Process

W instructors are certified by the WAC Program, W courses are approved in consultation with a WAC Committee that has representation from each college on campus.

The model adopted by the University of New Haven, which is in line with best practices in most WAC/WID programs, is to certify an individual instructor to teach an individual course section. In other words, a single course cannot be approved as writing-intensive for a whole department because the WAC program will be unable to determine if each instructor is following the writing-intensive guidelines discussed in the WAC Certification Workshop (see below for details about the workshop). Participation in the workshop and completion of a course proposal form will certify you to teach an identified course as writing-intensive.

Notes: Instructors only participate in the Orientation Workshop once. If the same instructor wishes to teach the same course as writing-intensive again, the instructor simply needs to indicate to the WAC Co-Directors (or via our intent form) that the instructor plans to teach the course again and to provide information about any significant changes to the course, if applicable. If the same instructor wishes to teach a different course as writing-intensive, the instructor will only need to fill out a new, full proposal form.

Course Requirements

All W courses at the University of New Haven carry a few key requirements that the instructor must adhere to. These requirements are based on best practices at other successful institutions and exist to allow for consistency among classes.

A course designated with a W must meet the following requirements:

  • Maximum student enrollment is 20.
  • The instructor must provide instruction on writing, including strategies for developing ideas, organization, style, and mastering discipline-specific formats.
  • The instructor must provide feedback on writing assignments, including comments related to thesis development, essay structure, organization, and mechanics.
  • The instructor must emphasize revision as part of the writing process.
  • The instructor must use writing to enable and extend learning of the subject matter (i.e., writing is not done solely for the purposes of evaluation. Students learn through writing.)
  • Writing should be a significant part (at least 25%) of the student’s grade in the course. To receive W credit for the course, the student must receive the grade of a C or higher on the written components of the course. (The student may receive less than a C on an individual writing assignment, but when all written assignments have been averaged together, they should average at a C).
    • Note that for multi-section courses in programs that have accreditation, departments should discuss consistent requirements across W sections.
  •  “W” courses do not have to be in Tier II, nor do they need to be core curriculum courses.
  • Each student must submit a minimum of 4500 words of revised, final-draft quality written work (total count for the semester).* (This is around 18 pages of text, double-spaced in Times New Roman, 12-point font). Please do not count a draft and a final version of the same paper twice when considering word count.

*What counts as revised written work may vary from discipline to discipline, and these issues can be fleshed out during the workshop and proposal process so that they work for your course.

Example: An instructor assigns 12 lab reports throughout the semester and does not see a purpose in asking the student to revise an old lab report, nor does the instructor have time to provide feedback on a draft before a lab report is turned in. He or she may instead choose to provide feedback on lab report 1 once it is submitted and hold students accountable for improving their writing based on this feedback by the time lab report 3 comes in.

Some of the writing can also constitute more informal writing assignments, such as in-class reflections and journals, as long as revision is an important part of the writing process in the course overall. Please try to keep most of the 4500-word requirement aimed towards formal written work.

In terms of pre-requisites, students are strongly advised to take Academic Inquiry & Writing (ENGL 1112/1113/1114) before taking their writing-intensive course. While the first-year writing course is not currently an explicit prerequisite, it will prepare students for the writing they will do in your course. We recommend that you reach out to students before the semester even begins and advise them accordingly. There may be other pre-requisites that are determined at the program level.

Please note that at many institutions, students are required to take a W course in their major.  At the University of New Haven, because we are still growing the number of W-trained faculty, students can take any W course offered at the university. However, departments and advisors can make decisions in terms of advising students to take a W course in the major.

Course Syllabus Language

Once you have received the certification, you will be asked to provide language on your syllabus to help students understand the purpose of Writing Intensive Courses. Please integrate this language in an appropriate place on your syllabus. Please adapt the language to your individual course where you see bold text and also feel free to revise this language as necessary. You do not have to use this language, but all instructors should clearly indicate on the syllabus that the course is writing intensive; how students receive credit; that they need to get a C or better on the written components to get the credit, etc.

We are also happy to come to your class and talk about the goals of W courses if you have any interest in this.

What is a Writing Intensive (W) Course?

All students who entered the university in fall 2017 or later are required to pass a Writing-Intensive (W) course prior to graduating. A W course is a class in which much of the student’s learning and thinking is aAll students who entered the university in fall 2017 or later are required to pass a Writing-Intensive (W) course prior to graduating.  A W course is a class in which much of the student’s learning and thinking is accomplished through writing. A W class does not necessarily require any more work than a non-W section of the same course. Instead, you will simply be asked to demonstrate your learning and think critically through writing. The W designation indicates that your instructor has participated in professional development workshops to enhance his or her strategies for teaching writing and that the course is capped at 20 students, so you have opportunities for individualized feedback.

What are the expectations for W Courses?

You can expect to write approximately X PAGES of writing in this class—a majority of which will be revised, polished work. I will offer feedback on your writing by doing X [fill in information about peer review, conferences, drafts, etc., as needed].

Written assignments will count as X% of your final grade in the class [offer any details about what the written components of the class will consist of. Percentage should be at least 25%] To receive W credit for the class, you must receive the grade of C or higher on the written components of the course.

Note that to receive the W designation, you will also need to complete an end-of-semester survey, which includes attaching a writing sample. The sample will be a paper you have already written for this course. I will email the survey to you towards the end of the semester. The survey and writing sample are used for assessment purposes and are not re-evaluated by the writing program.

*Important* – You are strongly advised to take first-year writing (ENGL 1112 or 1113 for international students) before taking a W course because W courses assume you have some of the basic writing skills necessary to compose within an academic discipline. W classes are a valuable opportunity to learn more about writing well, and you can take more than one.

While you will receive explicit instruction on writing in this class, you should also seek help outside of class if you feel writing is a weakness for you. You are expected to produce writing that is clear and relatively free of grammatical errors; therefore, you may need to seek additional resources, some of which I have provided below:

Resources for Writing Help

1. The Writing Center staffs peer writing tutors from all majors. They can help you at any stage in the writing process. To make an appointment, you can register for an account with their scheduling site at https://newhaven.navigate.eab.com/app/#/authentication/remote/ or visit them in person at their desk on the lower level of the Peterson library.

2. The Purdue OWL is an excellent online resource you can use to learn about citation practices, research, grammar, and more.

W Course Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

The following outcomes show what you should be able to do after taking a W course:

  • Employ the discourse conventions (style, format, organization, use of evidence, and citation expectations) of the discipline in all formal written work
  • Compose writing that reflects awareness of the rhetorical situation (audience, context, and purpose) of the document
  • Compose writing that is free from mechanical errors and clarity problems

[End syllabus language]


Bazerman, C. (2005). Reference guide to writing across the curriculum. West Lafayette, IN:Parlor Press.

Bean, J. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking,and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Farris, C. & Smith, R. (2000). Writing-intensive courses: Tools for curricular change. In S. McLeod & M. Soven (Eds.), Writing across the curriculum: A guide to developing programs, 52-62. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Palmquist, Mike, Childers, Pam, Maimon, Elaine, Mullin, Joan, Rice, Rich, Russell, Alisa, & Russell, David R. (2020). Fifty years of WAC: Where have we been? Where are we going? Across the Disciplines, 17(3/4), 5-45. https://doi.org/10.37514/ATD-J.2020.17.3.01

Thaiss, C. & Porter, T. (2010). The state of WAC/WID in 2010: Methods and results of the U.S. survey of the international WAC/WID mapping project. College Composition and Communication, 61(3),534-670.

Young, A. (2006). Teaching writing across the curriculum, 4th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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