The Writing Culture
At Dickinson College, writing is considered a central component of a liberal arts education. Dickinson faculty value writing because it helps students solidify their learning, deepen their critical thinking skills, and practice the language and conventions of their disciplines. At every level and in every major, students receive countless opportunities to write. The Writing Program supports the teaching and learning of writing in First-Year Seminars and Senior Capstones, administers WR or writing-intensive courses, provides specialized classes for English language learners, and offers various courses in Writing Studies (WRPG).
Writing in the First Year Seminar
A required course for entering students, First-Year Seminars feature a strong writing emphasis. Taught by faculty across the curriculum, the seminars focus on compelling topics arising from the disciplines as they seek to initiate students into the “community of inquiry.”
In regard to writing, students in First-Year Seminars are challenged to meet five main learning goals:
- Craft a clear and compelling thesis
- Shape a logical argument that balances general statements, concrete details, and specific examples
- Critically analyze an issue in a way that offers insight into how the parts contribute to the whole
- Anticipate and satisfy an audience’s need for information
- Produce clear, concise, and error-free prose.
The Writing Program sponsors the First-Year Seminar Excellence in Writing Awards, which seek to celebrate and reward with a monetary prize the best First-Year Seminar essays.
Students develop their critical reading and writing skills by completing at least one Writing-Intensive (WR) course, preferably in the major. In fact, 67% of 2012 graduates took more than one and as many as six WR courses.
Building on the critical reading and writing goals of First-Year Seminar, professors in WR courses:
- Teach the writing process – planning, drafting, revising, and editing
- Assign genres authentic to the discipline, like analytical essays, lab reports, case studies, term papers, among others
- Require students to submit 4000 words (or fifteen pages) of polished writing
- Emphasize the central role of writing in the course by allocating a substantial portion of the final grade to writing assignments
- Usually maintain a class size of not more than sixteen students
A distinctive feature of a WR course – one that distinguishes it from the myriad courses at Dickinson that engage students in writing -- is the focus on the writing process. An active community of scholars, Dickinson faculty understand the importance of the writing process to their own success as professional academic writers. Few scholars further their work, let alone publish it, without responding to the feedback of peer reviewers.
WR courses offer students the authentic opportunity to receive feedback from professors and peers (through class peer review sessions and/or visits to the Eberly Writing Center). In responding to the feedback, students come to experience writing as a process of discovery (re-visioning) and meaning-making that is mediated by a knowledge community.
Capstone Writing Experience
The writing experience of Dickinson students culminates in their final year when they pursue their research and/or creative interests and present their findings in substantial writing projects. In the traditional capstone, students define an area of interest and immerse themselves in the complexity of a narrowly defined topic. In the distributed capstone, students pursue several topics across two or three courses in the major.
While faculty members determine the criteria for the senior writing experience in the major, there are some essential commonalities across the disciplines. Students act as apprentices who model their specialized training via writing that exhibits the research methods, thought patterns, organizational forms, and language of their disciplines. In fact, many faculty challenge students to use articles in academic journals not only as the basis of their research but also as a model for their writing. Therefore, senior writing projects have the stamp of authenticity.
Some recent projects include:
- A group of Art History majors research and write a catalogue for an art exhibit they curate at the Trout Gallery.
- An Anthropology major writes an analysis of the connection between social roles and vertebrae after conducting laboratory research on ancient skeletal remains.
- A group of Math majors compose a textbook from the building-blocks of definitions and theorems.
- An Economics major compiles a research report for the United Way after studying local homeless people and shelter groups.
- A Russian major studying in Moscow conducts and transcribes interviews for a research essay written in Russian.
- A Geology major writes a scientific paper after doing fieldwork on volcanic deposits in British Columbia.
The Writing Program seeks to offer support for students and faculty participating in senior writing experiences.
English Language Learners
Dickinson College has a growing population of students whose first language is not English. The Writing Program provides resources to assist English Language Learners (ELLs) at all levels with their academic writing for U.S. college classes. Students can enroll in courses that will give them extra practice and instruction in writing or stop by the Writing Center for individual meetings with trained writing tutors.
Directed Self-Placement: During the fall and spring semester student orientations, incoming international students take a writing assessment in response to a short reading. The Writing Program evaluates each student's essay and offers a recommendation about whether the student needs writing support. Students may be encouraged to seek assistance in the Writing Center or to register for WRPG 101, a half-credit writing course for ELLs.
Peer Tutoring for ELL Students: ELL students who wish to visit the Writing Center can choose to work with undergraduate peer tutors who are available for one-on-one conferences with non-native speakers at all levels.
Click on a link to see a course syllabus:
WRPG 101: U.S. Research Writing for International Students (PDF)
WRPG 200: Advanced Critical Thinking and U.S. Academic Writing for International Students (PDF)
Questions/Concerns? Contact Lisa Wolff (Coordinator of ELL)
Email email@example.com or Phone (717) 245-1964
Courses in the Writing Program
100 U.S. Academic Writing for International Students
Offered during the summer program for international students
Recognizing that different cultures define good writing in different ways, this course introduces international students to American academic writing. Students will learn the qualities of a good thesis, a variety of organizational patterns, the characteristics of sound evidence, the roles of the reader and writer, and issues of word choice and American idioms.
101 U.S. Research Writing for International Students
1/2 credit, offered every year
Reinforcing and extending skills taught in First-Year Seminar, this course explains American academic discourse to international students by examining the forms, conventions, and expectations of American academic writing. Students will practice the research and writing processes, analyze the choices American writers make in organization and argument, and improve their word choice and sentence structure.
200 Advanced Critical Thinking and U.S. Academic Writing for International Students
Fulfills WR graduation requirement
This course offers international students advanced instruction in the rhetoric and writing strategies employed by successful American academic writers. Focusing on a course theme chosen by the instructor, students will delve deeply into a topic over the course of the semester. Students will learn to craft an arguable thesis, develop an original interpretation, create increasingly complex organizational structures, experiment with sentence length and style, and construct a voice as a writer.
211 Topics in Expository Writing
Fulfills WR graduation requirement
A course in expository prose which focuses on the writing process itself emphasizing the organization of ideas and development of style. Seminars, group tutorials, or individual instruction.
214 Working with Writers: Theory and Practice (Also ENGL 214)
Fulfills WR graduation requirement
Designed primarily for students who serve as tutors in the Norman M. Eberly Writing Center as well as for future teachers, this course examines how people learn to write from both a theoretical and a hands-on perspective.
**Prerequisite: permission of the Director of the Writing Program.