The Writing Seminar Experience

Each year, the Princeton Writing Program offers over 125 Writing Seminars of 12 students each on topics ranging from big data and collective memory to climate change and sexual politics. Student voices are at the center of each Writing Seminar community, where they practice not only how to write, but how to become generous and rigorous readers of each other’s work. In this way writing is understood as critical thinking that can be radically deepened and clarified through an iterative process of feedback and revision.

First-year Writing Seminars are multidisciplinary and designed by Writing Program faculty to emphasize transferable skills in critical inquiry, argument, and research methods. Every first-year student completes a Writing Seminar to fulfill the University writing requirement.

Seminars are typically a mix of AB and BSE students, and our students come to the seminar table with varying levels of preparation as writers; no matter their talents and prior experience, all students benefit from learning in community as they work to grow as readers, researchers, and writers.

Students learn how to frame compelling questions, use databases to locate and evaluate sources, position an argument within a genuine academic debate, substantiate and organize claims, purposefully integrate different types of evidence, and revise for greater cogency and clarity. This work provides students a foundation for their ongoing development as sophomores, juniors, and seniors, guided by faculty across the university.

While each Writing Seminar explores its own topic, PWP faculty practice a common pedagogy and create shared experiences around the research and writing process, summarized below:

  1. Writing Seminars meet for two 80-minute periods every week. In class, students discuss source materials and readings (often in terms of the Writing Lexicon), receive instruction on key writing skills, and examine their own writing in draft workshops and small groups.
  2. Faculty offer feedback on pre-drafts, as well as extensive marginal and cover comments on three drafts and final revised assignments. They also meet with student writers outside of class in required individual, paired, and small group conferences to discuss their drafts in progress.
  3. Writing Seminars are organized primarily around writing assignments, totaling about 30 finished pages. The major essays include: (i) a short critical argument putting an object of analysis into conversation with a theoretical text (5-6 pp); (ii) a more complex argument engaging diverse kinds of evidence and methods as the student situates their analysis in a broader scholarly conversation (7-8 pp); and (iii) an innovative researched argument that pursues the student’s own intellectual interests in relation to the course topic (10-12 pp).
  4. Because the primary focus of the Writing Seminar is on the students’ own writing, course readings are limited to approximately 300 pages per term and include a variety of sources: those serving as a primary focus of analysis, as well as contextual, theoretical, and critical texts. In addition to these assigned readings and peer drafts, students read sources that they locate independently for the research essay. Every seminar is joined by a University librarian who collaborates with the instructor in guiding students in their library research.

The Writing Seminars are designed to have broad appeal to first-year students while providing opportunities for intensive engagement and exploration. Students enroll in Writing Seminars by ranking their top eight choices; an optimization software program places students by balancing preferences and enrollment needs for the entire first-year class. Careful course design is essential to ensure that students across the different seminars share a common experience of intensive writing. Accommodating the complexity of students’ schedules requires that many Writing Seminars be scheduled in the early morning or in the evening.

Learn more about the Writing Seminars