Guidelines for Teachers of Writing-Intensive Courses in the Disciplines

College of Arts & Sciences
Howard University


Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is an interdepartmental program that promotes writing to learn and learning to write in every discipline. Research has shown that student writing in the disciplines, including mathematics and physics, fosters better thinking and active learning. Because writing and learning are intrinsically linked, the WAC program aims to expand the role of writing in courses in each discipline. In addition, it seeks to reinforce writing skills learned in Freshman English while helping students master the text conventions of their chosen discipline. To achieve these goals, nearly half of U.S. colleges and universities have established WAC programs.

 DESCRIPTION OF COURSES Writing-intensive courses in the disciplines  are the core of the WAC program at Howard University. They are designed to show students that writing well is essential to success in whatever field of study or career they pursue. In the College of Arts & Sciences, these courses fulfill the third writing requirement (following Freshman English 002 and 003). To enable teachers to respond to the frequent writing assignments, each course is limited to 20 students. In the Directory of Classes and on transcripts, writing-intensive courses in the disciplines are designated by a 700-level number and a -WRTG suffix. If a course consists of multiple sections, only the 700-level sections will be writing-intensive. 


1. No Beginners: Students who have not fulfilled the Freshman English requirement should not enroll in a writing-intensive section of a course, even if other sections of the course are open to freshmen.

2. No Repeaters: Students should not enroll in a writing-intensive section of a course they have already taken.

3. No Change in the Fulfillment of Other Requirements: A writing-intensive section will satisfy the same requirements (e.g., divisional requirements) as other sections of the course.

4. No Additional Credit: To fulfill the third writing requirement, a course must carry at least 3 credits. However, when a 3-credit course fulfills the third writing requirement, it is still worth only 3 credits.

5. No Old Section Number: Normally, when a section becomes writing-intensive, a 700-level number replaces the original number.


All students must have fulfilled the Freshman English requirement (Freshman English 002 and 003). To fulfill the requirement in the College of Arts & Sciences, students must not only pass 002 and 003, but earn a "C" or better in Freshman English 003. Otherwise, they must earn a "C" or better in 004 (the follow-up course for weak writers).


Writing assignments should play many roles. Students will use writing as follows:

1. to ensure that they read carefully

2. to make sense of their lessons

3. to think critically about the subject matter (especially through analysis and synthesis)

4. to organize their thoughts and present them in a comprehensible format

5. to master the text conventions of the discipline (e.g., formats, documentation styles, assumptions, acceptable evidence)

6. to reinforce the skills learned in Freshman English 002 or 003 (including editing skills)


1. Students will spend some class time discussing the writing required for the course.

2. Students will analyze and discuss examples of excellent writing in the discipline.

3. Students will use prewriting strategies (e.g., brainstorming, categorizing, freewriting, diagramming, outlining, and journal-keeping).

4. Students will complete several short writing assignments designed to improve their thinking and writing. These assignments can take many forms. For instance, in addition to formal research papers, lab reports, or essays, students may write rough drafts, journal entries, summaries, research proposals, annotated bibliographies, reviews of literature, book reviews, progress memoranda, and abstracts.

5. Students will be required (through grading incentives) to rewrite some papers. These rewrites should be substantive revisions, not merely the correction of grammatical and spelling errors. To revise, students should occasionally have access to "peer reviews" from their classmates as well as comments from the teacher.

6. The WAC Committee must approve the syllabi for writing-intensive courses.


Teachers should refer students to a Freshman English handbook (e.g., Penguin or Bedford) or any standard grammar guide. In addition, teachers may order writing books specific to their discipline (e.g., the Harper Collins series on writing in biology, art, history, and other fields).


Teachers should evaluate papers not only for an understanding of crucial concepts, but also for the clarity with which those concepts are expressed. In other words, teachers should consider the efficacy of expression (including such matters as unity, coherence, organization, grammar, and spelling). However, teachers need not correct the papers as an English teacher would.

Since students should be writing for various purposes in various stages and in various forms, teachers should vary their responses to writing. Certainly, first and final drafts do not have to be evaluated the same way. In fact, journal entries and some first drafts do not have to be marked or graded at all, just CREDITED. (Moreover, given checklists or guidelines, students can evaluate their classmates’ or their own first drafts.) Even final drafts can receive a variety of responses: 

HOLISTIC: Evaluate on the basis of a general impression of the content, arrangement, and style of a text. 

 FOCUSED: Focus on the 2 or 3 most serious problems in the paper (e.g., inaccuracies, illogical organization, or the five-point errors on the Freshman English syllabi). 

LIMITED: Assess the content and organization, while taking into account all English errors before a designated cut-off (e.g., the first 300 words). 

 RETURNED: Return an unmarked paper because it is so deficient that the student must confer with the teacher or a tutor and rewrite the paper (subject to a late penalty). 

TRADITIONAL: Assign points for specific characteristics of the text and mark all errors (see the Freshman English syllabi).


Theory and practice indicate that faculty workshops contribute to the success of writing-intensive courses. Therefore, faculty members wishing to teach such courses will attend a series of workshops (WC01, WC03, and WC06) or The WAC Certification Seminar .  The seminar is a hands-on, collaborative venture--an occasion for colleagues to help each other develop syllabi for writing-intensive courses. Interested faculty members will attend 3 sessions (9 a.m. - 12 noon)  and submit a revised syllabus to the WAC Committee.  When the WAC Committee approves the syllabus, the faculty member will receive a WAC Certificate to include in his or her merit-tenure-and-promotion file. Only certified WAC Teachers may teach 700-level courses that fulfill the third writing requirement. Therefore, the following policies apply:

Course Reassignment: If a WAC teacher cannot teach a 700-level course as scheduled, the course must be reassigned to another WAC teacher or canceled.

Team-Teaching: If a 700-level course is team-taught, at least one of the faculty members assigned to the course must be a certified WAC teacher.  If this faculty member is the only team member to complete the workshop, s/he is responsible for assigning and responding to the students’ writing.  If other faculty members or graduate students share that responsibility, they must also attend the workshop. However, the WAC Committee strongly recommends that all members of the teaching team participate in the workshop, regardless of their roles.

Previous WAC Experience: The WAC Committee will consider petitions from faculty members who wish to be excused from the workshop because of prior experience in a WAC program. A teacher with the requisite experience may conduct a 700-level course after the committee approves the teacher’s syllabus.

The WAC Certification Seminar provides resources for developing and evaluating lessons and assignments that will not only help students learn to write but help them "write to learn": 

Designing "Writing to Learn" and "Learning to Write" Activities: At the first meeting, participants will explore a variety of purposes, stages, and forms for writing that are not traditionally part of content courses in the sciences or humanities.

Collaborating to Revise Syllabi: At the second meeting, veteran WAC teachers will share their syllabi and answer questions. In addition, WAC Committee members and workshop participants will collaborate on the revision of syllabi. 

Handling the Paper Load: At the third meeting, participants will discuss and practice ways to respond to student writing. This session will offer techniques and resources that help teachers handle the paper load more effectively and more easily. Afterward, the participants will finish revising their syllabi and submit them to the WAC Committee.


Teachers and students in the WAC program have access to many resources to help them solve writing problems:

WAC Committee: Dr. Teresa M. Redd, Chair and Director (6-0870,

Tutorial Assistance:  The English Department’s Writing Center (Locke 100 and HEC 1024) and Center for Academic Reinforcement (Academic Support Building B, 1st floor lab).

References: Freshman English handbooks (e.g., Penguin, Bedford, or Little/Brown); Barbara Walvoord’s Helping Students Write Well: A Guide for Teachers in All Disciplines (New York: Modern Language Association, 1986).

Acknowledgments: This document updates "Guidelines for Teachers of Writing-Intensive Courses in the Disciplines" (T. Redd & W. Schreck), which incorporated material from "Specifications for Courses Fulfilling the Writing Requirement Above 003" (WAC Ad Hoc Committee) and from "Working Paper on Writing in All Disciplines in the College of Liberal Arts" (A. Kelly).



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