University of Minnesota

Office of Undergraduate Education

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the specific requirements of Writing-Intensive (WI) courses?

According to current Council on Liberal Education guidelines, all WI courses need to

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What is the rationale behind the WI requirement?

The University of Minnesota’s WI requirement is based on three assertions, namely: (1) writing is a tool for learning and communication (2) only by reading and writing within a field can students advance their understanding of that field, and (3) writing is at the center of the academic experience and is the responsibility of the entire academic community.

These assertions are based on several complementary findings:

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How might I go about developing a WI course or converting a non-WI course into a WI course?

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What is meant by “writing instruction”?

Explicit instruction in discipline-specific writing is a required component of an upper division writing-intensive (WI) course. The writing also needs to be integral to the course. Thus, assigning an end of term 10-15 page paper and copy-editing it for student revision would NOT meet the WI requirement. At the same time, writing instruction need not take over the course! Consider brief discussions in which you elicit ideas and model options (versus lecture) on relevant writing topics. You may also find it helpful to peruse this document, Strategies for Incorporating and Documenting Explicit Writing Instruction in WI Proposals.

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What is meant by “informal and formal writing assignments”?

WI courses integrate writing with course content and provide a variety of formal and informal occasions for students to write. Formal writing, require students to demonstrate their understanding of formats characteristic of a particular field, such as a research report, a critical essay, or a laboratory report. Informal assignments, which might include logs, journals, or short in-class responses to readings and lectures, help students to learn course material or to trigger ideas that can later be developed in formal drafts. Through both formal and informal writing, students further their understanding of disciplinary goals, assumptions, and key concepts operating in your discipline.

For more ideas see

How much of this pertains to directed studies courses that are WI?

All of it. To meet the Council of Liberal Education requirements for WI, instructors need to indicate on the directed research contract how writing serves the goals of the project; show that the amount of formal writing is at least 10-15 pages apart from informal writing; specify the types of writing instruction that you will provide; include at least one assignment requiring revision. In addition, although directed research/studies projects are designated S/N, course grades must be significantly tied explicitly to the course’s writing component. A student cannot pass the research component of the course and fail the writing, yet still obtain a grade of S. In WI courses, the writing component needs to constitute roughly 30% (33%), or one third of the final grade.

Instructors need to engage students in writing instruction regularly, from the start of the semester onward. This can be trickier in one-to-one environments than in larger group formats, but is not impossible. Start the semester out with a contract in which regular meetings are scheduled and short assignments or drafts of a longer assignment are paced. Sequenced meetings in which you and the student start off discussing research and readings, then move to analyzing published and unpublished models of relevant texts, and then lead to discussions of student writing allow you to avoid the unhappy situation in which students are out on their own and instructors feel that the only thing they can offer is copyediting and grading services. If you decide that you want students to write a longer term paper, start out by working with topics, and ask for a developed proposal before discussing research and models. Finally, asking students to keep a process or research journal, blog, and/or reading log throughout the semester can lend focus to these meetings.

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What about grammar?

You may not be a grammarian but you know a garbled passage when you see it and you know what is expected of successful writing in your discipline.

Provide feedback from a reader’s perspective! In other words, respond to unclear passages as a reader rather than a grammarian by jotting down what the passage forces you to wonder (e.g.: "Do you mean…".or "As I read this, you are saying ___. Do you mean something else? ) Noting that a passage is "unclear" doesn't give students enough information. Specifying your confusion as a reader may give students enough information (and perspective) to correct the error.

If your confusion is caused by a sentence-level grammatical problem, at minimum you can place a checkmark or other symbol in the margin by unclear passages, directing students to refer to handbooks or online references. It isn't as important for students to know the grammatical name of the construction they are having difficulty with—if the naming were important, you would probably still remember what they were called!

Don’t copy edit. By serving as students' copy editor, you're exhausting yourself and, in effect, teaching them very little. Research has shown that students will have difficulty recognizing enough about the mistake that you've corrected to avoid repeating it.

For more on grammatical and usage-related issues see:

Where can my students go for help?

You are your students’ most important resource and will want to encourage them to bring drafts, questions, and concerns to your office hours. Students can also find writing help when they refer to a writing handbook or online resource, and/or by working with a writing consultant at the Center for Writing’s Student Writing Support program.

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  • Last modified on January 8, 2013