W Course Information

W Guidelines

In a writing-intensive (W) course, writing should be integral to the learning goals and subject matter of the course.  In the language of UConn’s General Education Guidelines, “Students should not write simply to be evaluated; they should learn how writing can ground, extend, deepen, and even enable their learning of course material.  In addition then to general formal questions concerning strategies for developing ideas, clarity of organization, and effectiveness of expression–and discipline specific format, evidentiary, and stylistic norms—the W requirement should lead students to understand the relationship between  their own thinking and writing in a way that will help them continue to develop throughout their lives and careers after graduation.”

According to the policies of the General Education Oversight Committee and the Faculty Senate, those teaching W courses must:

  1. Assign 15 pages of edited written work
  2. Not only assign writing, but teach it
  3. Build in a process for revision
  4. Inform students that in order to pass the course, they must pass the writing component.  (This should be stated on the syllabus)

An excerpt from an April 14, 2005 GEOC memo expands on those requirements:

“The key distinction between a W and non-W course is pedagogical, not whether writing is assigned or not.  Writing, of course, may be, and in fact, should be assigned in many courses, with or without the W designation.  What distinguishes a W course from any other course is that students must be provided explicit writing instruction and consistent faculty feedback to foster revision, and W courses require a minimum of fifteen, revised and edited pages of writing.  It is likely that some courses may require fifteen or more pages of writing in a semester without offering instruction and structured opportunities for revision, but a course that did so would not qualify as a W course.

Because W courses require explicit instruction and consistent feedback for revision, it is not possible to register some students for W credit and others not for W credit in the same course.  If the teaching practices in the course conform to the requirements for a W course, then the enrollment limits must conform to the university mandate (nineteen students per section) to enable effective writing instruction.”

For the original W policy document, go to http://geoc.uconn.edu/writing-competency/

For other GEOC documents, please go to http://geoc.uconn.edu

“The General Education Oversight Committee (GEOC) sets W course policy, approves new W course proposals or modifications to existing W courses for intersession, and oversees assessment and curricular matters related to general education, including W courses.The University Writing Center offers support to student writers, mostly through individual tutorials, and consults with faculty and graduate students as they teach writing in their home disciplines. The University Writing Center works in concert with GEOC and academic departments, but it holds none of their authority over either curriculum or faculty.”

FAQs about W Course Teaching

Are guidelines for W courses different at regional campuses?
No. W courses, regardless of location or level, should meet the same criteria. For those core requirements, please see the information posted above. Storrs and the regional campuses have writing specialists to assist faculty, plus writing centers that offer tutoring.

Can I enroll beyond the 19 cap by giving out permission numbers?
Please don’t. The cap is in place to ensure close student/faculty interaction. Enrolling beyond 19 requires approval from the General Education Oversight Committee.

Does any kind of writing count toward the 15 page minimum?
No. Only writing that moves through a revision process counts. This does not mean that all writing in a W course must be revised—after all, many kinds of exploratory writing are valuable for student learning. Such “write to learn” activities (journals, in-class writing, on-line postings, short response papers, etc.) are strongly encouraged, but at least 15 pages of revised and edited text must still be assigned.

What kinds of revision should be built into my W course?
You decide how to best organize the revising process. Most instructors assign drafts in advance of the final submission and comment on them, or they conference with students about them. Other options include having students critique each others’ drafts (be sure to structure and supervise such peer review), recording audio responses to drafts, or holding small group tutorials. Often a mix of these methods works well.

Should I grade drafts?
That is your choice. Some opt to grade them; some deliver a tentative grade; some defer grading to encourage exploratory thinking and risk-taking in drafts. In any case, when responding to drafts your focus should be on formative comments: that is, posing questions, affirming what is working, and pointing out problems so that students can put your comments to use as they return to the draft to revise. In general, we recommend delivering a rigorous evaluation and formative comments for a draft, but not a grade.

Do I need to include anything special on the syllabus for a W course?
Yes.  At minimum include the “F Clause”: “According to university-wide policies for W courses, you cannot pass this course unless you receive a passing grade for its writing components.” We also recommend that you include statements on academic honesty, students with disabilities, and the availability of Writing Center tutorials. Sample language for those items can be found lower on this page.

Does the W requirement dictate that any specific genres must be assigned?
No. Those will depend on your discipline and course. Some W courses feature one 20-page research project (usually composed in stages), some three or four essays, some specialized genres (policy briefs, lab reports, proposals, abstracts, case study analyses, etc.), and some a mix of genres.

Do I need to assign a research paper?
No, but most W courses include some research and address how to evaluate, incorporate, and document sources. When assigning research projects, many faculty opt to divide them into smaller, progressive components (proposal, annotated bibliography or literature review, section drafts, whole draft). Each stage of the process occasions response.

Can a portfolio or a major final paper serve as the final exam?
Yes. The University Senate recently changed the final exam policy. Sit-down final exams at the officially scheduled times are no longer required; however, instructors do need to have a substantial final assessment (like a portfolio, a major project, or a paper) for each course.

Exactly how much writing instruction do I need to include, and how can I balance it with other course content?
This will vary and is left to the wisdom of each instructor. Note that “writing instruction” means more than imparting rules for grammar, usage, and documentation; it also involves teaching students to explore and shape their ideas, analyze their audiences, frame arguments, gather evidence effectively and ethically, understand genre conventions, and attend to style. Many faculty reserve writing instruction for their comments on drafts or their individual conferences with students. Many build it into lectures and discussions, showcase models of successful and unsuccessful writing, introduce mini-lessons on key stylistic points, and hold writing workshops on days when drafts are due. Writing instruction should complement rather than compete with course content: learning to write in a discipline means learning to think, argue, research and communicate with the community of scholars in a given field.

Are there UConn-wide standards for evaluating student writing?
No. You set the criteria appropriate for your course and discipline.  We recommend that you distribute your expectations for writing and your grading policy early in the semester. If interested, you can click here to find discussions of evaluating college writing and samples of discipline-specific grading rubrics in reports on the writing assessment project sponsored by GEOC and the University Writing Center.

How should I respond to sentence-level errors in student writing?
Set high standards for editing and stick to them, but also help students meet those high standards. Error-ridden final submissions of assignments should not pass. We might expect more frequent sentence-level problems in drafts because there writers tend to (we hope) focus on finding their purpose, shaping their ideas, gathering evidence, and organizing the material. Some faculty address sentence-level concerns by working with students individually; some introduce occasional in-class lessons on key usage, style or documentation matters; some require a writing handbook. Another option is referring (but not requiring) students to the Writing Center, where we often help students help themselves in editing their work. As a general rule, avoid line editing an entire student draft, as that tips toward editing for students rather than teaching them to edit. While you should respond throughout a draft to a student’s ideas, structure and uses of evidence, better to line edit no more than the first 20% of the text; for the latter 80%, jot a check in the margin for each grammatical or documentation error so that the writer can go back and edit for himself or herself. Also help students understand one pattern of error that you see repeated frequently so that the writer can focus on that.

How do I deal with potential cases of plagiarism?
When planning your course, consider ways to promote academic integrity: on your syllabus include a plagiarism policy and your expectations for intellectual work (you can find sample academic integrity statements on the Writing Center website); in class discuss the ethical standards and documentation conventions for your discipline; create detailed assignments tailored to your course; require students to complete the on-line plagiarism module in HuskyCT; alert students to potential problems in early drafts; and never accept final papers for which you haven’t seen the required drafts. If you discover plagiarism, inform your home department and the Office of Community Standards. That office also has a FAQ webpage for faculty who suspect misconduct.

Shouldn’t my students have learned to write and document sources in Freshman English?
In Freshman English students grapple with complex readings from the humanities and social sciences; they practice interpretation, argument, and research; and they write several essays, some of which incorporate sources. They write and revise at least 30 pages of text. Still, because academic writing is a deeply contextual activity, no single course can prepare students for the range of writing they will encounter across a college curriculum, nor can any single course inoculate students from making sentence-level mistakes in other contexts. When students receive consistent and rigorous response to their writing across courses and over a number of years, they develop into skilled and versatile writers.

Where can I get more information about the W requirement or get assistance with my course planning?
The General Education Oversight Committee sets W policy and oversees W courses. The University Writing Center offers faculty and teaching assistants workshops, online resources, and individualized consultations. We also make one-on-one tutorials in writing available to all UConn students.

Syllabus Text Add-Ins For W Coures:
Failure Clause, Writing Center Description, Academic Integrity, Students With Disabilities

Please Include the Following Statement on All W Course Syllabi
According to university-wide policies for W courses, you cannot pass this course unless you receive a passing grade for its writing components.

Optional Add-Ins for Your W Course Syllabus
***Please note that the following are not official UConn statements, but feel free to use or adapt them as you wish***

University Writing Center

All UConn students are invited to visit the University Writing Center for individualized tutorials. The Writing Center staff includes talented and welcoming graduate and undergraduate students from across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. They work with writers at any stage of the writing process, from exploring ideas to polishing final drafts. Their first priority is guiding each student’s revisions, so they frequently provide a sounding board for a writer’s ideas, arguments, analytical moves, and uses of evidence. They can also work with you on sentence-level concerns, but please note that they will not proofread for you; instead, they will help you become a better editor of your own work. You should come with a copy of the assignment you are working on, a current draft (or notes if you are not yet at the draft stage), and ideas about what you want out of a session. Tutorials run 45 minutes and are free. You can drop in or make an appointment. For hours, locations, and more information, please go to writingcenter.uconn.edu.

Academic Integrity

In this course we aim to conduct ourselves as a community of scholars, recognizing that academic study is both an intellectual and ethical enterprise. You are encouraged to build on the ideas and texts of others; that is a vital part of academic life. You are also obligated to document every occasion when you use another’s ideas, language, or syntax. You are encouraged to study together, discuss readings outside of class, share your drafts during peer review and outside of class, and go to the Writing Center with your drafts. In this course, those activities are well within the bounds of academic honesty. However, when you use another’s ideas or language—whether through direct quotation, summary, or paraphrase—you must formally acknowledge that debt by signaling it with a standard form of academic citation. Even one occasion of academic dishonesty, large or small, on any assignment, large or small, will result in failure for the entire course and referral to Student Judicial Affairs. For University policies on academic honesty, please see UConn’s Responsibilities of Community Life: The Student Code and the Office of Community Standards: http://www.community.uconn.edu

Students With Disabilities

Students who think that they may need accommodations because of a disability are encouraged to meet with me privately early in the semester. Students should also contact the Center for Students with Disabilities as soon as possible to verify their eligibility for reasonable accommodations.  For more information, please go to http://www.csd.uconn.edu/.

We also recommend that you include syllabus language that explains your expectations for revision, your late draft and paper policy, and your grading criteria.

Policy on Graduate Students Teaching W Courses

According to the General Education Oversight Committee of the Faculty Senate, “W courses normally will be taught by University of Connecticut faculty. When that is not possible, then qualified graduate students may be used to assist faculty in 2000+level W courses or, with faculty supervision, to teach a 1000-level W course. All new instructors of W courses will be provided with a W course orientation. This orientation will be required of all teaching assistants assigned to assist in a 2000+level or to instruct a 1000-level W course.”


The University Writing Center offers this W orientation each August and January, right before the semester begins. Registration forms for these orientations will be posted online well in advance of each orientation. To view the agenda for the  W Teaching Orientation, please click here.

The orientations outline best practices for teaching writing in the disciplines. They feature interactive workshops on building robust revision processes into W courses, designing effective assignments, responding to student writing, and handling the paper load. Our aim is not only to enhance the quality of student learning in W courses but also to explore strategies that can make each instructor’s writing-intensive teaching more effective and rewarding.

You need attend the W orientation only once during your time at UConn. However, we encourage you to attend the stand-alone workshops offered each semester on various teaching topics. Please note that as of 2006, attending the stand-alone workshops during the regular year cannot substitute for the January or August W orientations unless arrangements are made well in advance with the Director of the University Writing Center.

The University Writing Center is happy to work with graduate students as they plan and teach their W courses.  Beyond offering the W orientation and regular-year workshops, we invite you to meet with us individually to discuss your teaching of writing in the disciplines.