Writing Seminar Assignment Sequence

Unlike courses organized around content, a Writing Seminar is organized around three major writing assignments of increasing complexity, each requiring more sophisticated research skills. By the end of the semester each student will have produced around 30 pages of finished work.

Four Core Assignments

The Writing Seminar is organized around four writing assignments designed to teach analytical argument. In the first half of the seminar, two assignments give students the opportunity to hone their critical curiosity and cultivate writerly habits in a community of peers. Between those two assignments students practice articulating purposeful, manageable methods for pursuing original lines of inquiry; organize and enter into scholarly conversations; gain meta-disciplinary awareness; learn how to analyze evidence to critique and refine scholarship; come to better understand ethical source use; and construct an arguable thesis in response to a well-substantiated and multi-layered motive. In the second half of the seminar, students revisit and continue developing those same skills in the more sophisticated and self-driven context of a mentored independent research project.

More simply, the first half of the seminar provides students deep practice drafting and revising an analytical argument using sources curated by their instructor. In the second half of the seminar, students develop a research plan before going on to draft and then revise a Final Research Paper using sources they identify in consultation with their instructor, their peers, and their seminar librarian.

Written Peer Feedback & Reflective Writing

As they progress through the semester, students learn new strategies for seeking, receiving, and giving feedback, including written peer-to-peer feedback. They are also guided towards greater self-assessment of their critical writing through composing cover letters to accompany their assignments, journal entries capturing their discovery process, and post-draft reflections imagining the next steps they could take with a project. In addition, students have opportunities to examine their roles as authors and as members of a community of scholars, and to reflect on their own development as critical researchers and writers.

Writing for Transfer

Students benefit from opportunities to transfer or translate what they’ve learned about academic writing into new contexts and diverse genres (e.g., by responding to a senior thesis according to their interests or by crafting an op-ed, presentation poster, creative expression, etc., based on what they’ve discovered). 

Homework, Pre-Drafts, and Drafts

Homework and pre-drafts are presented as opportunities to think “out loud” on the page. These assignments ask students to generate ideas they might be uncertain about or new key terms that may or may not make it into the final draft. These low-stakes assignments are springboards into the research and writing process. As opportunities to explore their thinking, we do not expect students to submit polished pieces of writing. They also serve as important benchmarks as students work to complete their papers. In most cases these low-stakes assignments are not graded, although some may be worth a small percentage of the final course grade (e.g., 5%) if they represent a significant step towards completing a draft of one of the major assignments..

Similarly, drafts are opportunities to take risks—to go out on a limb and test the strength of ideas that fire up our students’ imagination! The drafting process provides students with an opportunity to discover what they really think about a topic or scholarly question. The process also gives them the chance to get constructive feedback, because it’s through engagement with feedback that they can craft a revised argument made stronger for having taken a reader’s perspective into account. Drafts are not graded.

In the Spotlight: Low-Stakes Writing Assignments