Below you will find answers to the most common questions faculty ask about developing writing intensive (wi) courses.

When do the new General Education (GE) requirements, which include the writing-intensive course requirement, go into effect?

The new GE program begins Fall 2016. Starting in Fall 2016, courses can be designated as writing-intensive (wi).

How is a wi course defined at Cal State LA?

Writing-intensive courses must be certified as writing-intensive through the curricular review process. To be designated writing-intensive (wi), the course should help students achieve the following student learning outcomes listed in the university’s Policy on General Education:
    1. Be able to use both formal (such as essays, reports, and research writing) and informal (such as brainstorming, free-writing, and reading responses) writing strategies to develop their understanding of course content and to think critically about that content.
    2. Be able to use drafting, revising, editing and other writing processes to demonstrate their mastery of course content through formal writing products appropriate to the discipline, such as thesis-driven essays, formal reports, or professionally formatted manuscripts.
    3. Be able to demonstrate understanding of discipline specific features of writing including rhetorical strategies and genre and format conventions prominent in assigned reading and writing or found in professional publications in the discipline.
    4. Have completed written assignments that total at least 5,000 words, of which at least 2,500 words are polished and revised based on responses from readers, such as instructors, peers via workshops, or writing center tutors.

 How are writing-intensive courses defined more generally?

In a writing-intensive course, much of the thinking and learning is conducted through integrated, frequent writing. Additionally, students practice disciplinary ways of communicating in writing-intensive courses. In “Writing and Teaching for Surprise,” for example, Donald Murray (1984) argues that students can make sense of class topics by writing: “We do not write to repeat what others have written, but to discover our own surprises, what we have to say and how we can say it” (p.151).
Two key components of writing-intensive courses, then, are writing to learn and writing to communicate. Writing to learn often is expressive writing, in that students write journals, reactions to reading assignments, or reactions to class discussions or lectures. Writing to communicate is draws upon the social construction of knowledge, in that students analyze the discursive practices of specific disciplines and participate in peer writing groups.

 What is “writing to learn”?

Writing to learn activities might be short, in-class, informal writing tasks that help students think through course content. They are a key component of writing-intensive courses, valuable not merely because they increase the frequency and amount of student writing, but because writing has been found to correlate strongly with increases in learning and improvement in critical thinking skills. As Fulwiler and Young (2000) state in Language Connections: Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum:

Writing to communicate--or what James Britton calls "transactional writing"--means writing to accomplish something, to inform, instruct, or persuade. . . . Writing to learn is different. We write to ourselves as well as talk with others to objectify our perceptions of reality; the primary function of this "expressive" language is not to communicate, but to order and represent experience to our own understanding. In this sense language provides us with a unique way of knowing and becomes a tool for discovering, for shaping meaning, and for reaching understanding. (p. x)


 What are some examples of writing to learn activities?

Some common examples of writing to learn activities are

  • Reading journals
  • Summaries
  • Annotations
  • Response papers
  • Synthesis papers
  • Learning log
  • Discussion Starters
  • Analyzing the Process
  • Freewriting
  • Believing and Doubting game


 What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of writing-intensive courses?

In “Writing-Intensive Courses: Tools for Curricular Change,” Christine Farris and Raymond Smith (1992) list the following characteristics typical of writing-intensive courses:

  • Small class size (15-25)
  • Taught by faculty (as opposed to graduate students)
  • Required number of pages or words
  • Combination of writing-to-learn and writing-to-communicate assignments
  • Sequenced/process oriented writing tasks spread throughout term
  • Opportunity to revise in response to instructor feedback
  • Writing a significant part of final course grade
  • Faculty supported by training, workshops, consultations


 Is every program required to offer a writing-intensive course?

Yes. Students are required to complete at least two writing-intensive courses, one of which must be in their degree program.

 Does the writing-intensive course replace the upper division writing course in the major?

Not necessarily. Under current university policy (“Upper Division Writing Requirement”) each undergraduate major is required to offer a course in “communication in the English language” in which students are “taught the conventions of the genres (for example: reports, prospecti, position papers, literature reviews, primary and secondary research papers) particular to their disciplines.” This upper division writing course in the major must have as one of its prerequisites satisfactory completion of the Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement (GWAR). Writing-intensive courses can be offered as lower division or upper division courses and there are no mandatory prerequisites. Furthermore, while the upper division writing course in the major is often a course that focuses on writing in a particular discipline (i.e. it is a writing instruction class), a writing-intensive class can be any subject area class in which writing is integrated and a key component of course curriculum.

 Can a program use its existing upper division writing course in the major to satisfy the requirement that students take one writing-intensive course in the major?

Yes. Many existing upper division writing courses in the major are probably already writing-intensive, so programs might choose to submit these courses as writing-intensive courses. Some of these courses, however, might not meet the student learning outcomes for writing-intensive courses outlined in the GE policy. In those cases, programs can choose to modify their existing upper division writing course in the major to be writing-intensive, or they might choose to propose a different course as their writing-intensive course in the major. Regardless, programs are still required to offer a writing-intensive course in the major and an upper division writing course in the major, but can use the same course to meet both requirements provided the course qualifies for both.

 How is a course certified as a writing-intensive (wi) course at Cal State LA?

The (wi) designation should be sought as part of semester conversion curriculum review. Course proposers seeking (wi) designation for their courses should specify in the justification section of the course proposal how the proposed course satisfies the student learning outcomes associated with writing-intensive courses. Proposers might also note the ways in which their courses adhere to higher education best practices for writing-intensive courses, as described earlier in this document.

 When are course proposals for writing-intensive (wi) courses due?

GE courses that seek the (wi) designation need to be submitted by May 15, but courses in the major can be submitted up to June 15 to their college. Please note that this submission deadline for non-GE courses seeking (wi) designation is earlier than the posted submission deadline for other non-GE courses (i.e. major courses and open electives). This earlier deadline (June 15) is required because besides regular curriculum review non-GE courses seeking (wi) designation need to be reviewed by the General Education Subcommittee (GES), which will require additional time.

 Can a non-GE course be designated as (wi) if it is less than 3 units?

As outlined above, the primary characteristics of a writing-intensive course are frequency, variety and amount of writing, integration of writing into course content and delivery, opportunities for feedback and revision, and significant value placed on writing as part of the course grade. More important than the total number of units for the course is whether the course has been designed with attention to higher education best practices and will enable students to meet the student learning outcomes for writing-intensive courses.

 Are any resources available to help with designing a writing-intensive course?

  • See the university's WAC Director in Library, Palmer Wing 1061
  • Bean, John. (2011). Engaging Ideas (2nd Edition). San Francisco: Jossey Bass. This is a very practical "nuts-and-bolts" guide. An outline of Chapter 7, “Designing Tasks for Active Thinking and Learning” can be found at: http://web.grinnell.edu/Dean/Tutorial/Skills/Writing/JohnBeanAdvice.pdf
  • Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing (http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/bb/). This is the definitive bibliography for writing instruction and writing program design.
  • Richard Haswell's "Minimal Marking" (A Time Saving) Technique. A method of noting surface-level issues in student papers that saves time in the commenting process and asks students to be more responsible for understanding and “correcting” their own work. The original essay by Haswell can be found at http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~digger/609/haswell.html.
  • Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/). The first and still best OWL—mostly student-oriented resources, but includes a great deal of material on subject-specific writing (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/4/) and on WAC (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/671/1/).
  • Quinnipiac University Writing Across the Curriculum Resources (http://www.quinnipiac.edu/institutes-and-centers/writing-across-the-curriculum/wacwid-database/). Impressive collection of faculty development materials related to writing.
  • WAC Clearinghouse at Colorado State University (http://wac.colostate.edu/intro/). This site provides a wealth of resources for higher education WAC programs.