classroom conversation in the University Writing Program


In Plato’s dialogue the Phaedrus, the character of Socrates voices his disapproval of writing. According to Socrates, words rendered in “that black fluid we call ink” dull the memory, cannot respond to questions put to them, cannot discern who should read them, and lack the capacity to speak truthfully to the human condition.

Times have changed. Today, most people no longer write in “that black fluid we call ink,” and writing is widely regarded as a vital practice in contemporary society. We routinely hear the call for good writers, broadly defined, in business, law, government, the sciences, and other fields. In academic settings, skillful writing is regarded as essential to students’ success in virtually all areas of study. Therefore, the teaching of writing takes place both in the first-year writing course and in disciplinary courses across the University throughout all years of students’ education.

The aim of the writing-intensive courses is to ensure that Notre Dame students graduate from our University as skilled, if not excellent, writers. Toward that end, faculty in all disciplines are called upon to develop courses for improving the teaching of writing in disciplinary contexts. The outcomes, requirements, and recommended teaching practices for such courses are as follows.

Course Outcomes

The writing-intensive course at Notre Dame will teach students how to:

  1. Understand the expectations that characterize writing in their major field of study, and use this knowledge to write effectively in a range of formats within that discipline.
  2. Conduct library research practices appropriate to the discipline.
  3. Produce complex and well-supported arguments that reflect disciplinary conventions and audience expectations.
  4. Use flexible strategies for organizing, revising, and proofreading writing of varying lengths and genres.
  5. Write sentences, paragraphs, and papers that are grammatically correct and syntactically coherent.
  6. Articulate a substantive research question or experimental hypothesis and frame it within an appropriate scholarly conversation within the discipline.
  7. Engage in practices of reasoned, evidence-based, intellectually open-minded communication.

Course Requirements

  1. Writing is integrated into course objectives and outcomes. The syllabus reflects the central importance of writing in the study of course content, and in assigning final grades.
  2. Writing is a significant part of coursework. Each student will submit by the end of the course approximately 20 pages of written work and will have revised at least one assignment in response to feedback.
  3. Instruction in research practices appropriate to the discipline is integrated into the course.
  4. Instruction in the writing process, i.e., generating ideas, conducting research, writing a draft, rethinking, revising, and editing, is included in the course.
  5. Revision practices are integrated into writing instruction; students have the opportunity to revise written work before receiving a final grade.
  6. Meetings between instructors and students, either one-to-one or in small groups, are stipulated in the syllabus.
  7. Courses or sections are sized to allow for timely grading and feedback of all work for each student.

Recommended Pedagogical Practices

Faculty in the writing-intensive course are encouraged to:

  1. Provide models of disciplinary writing that illustrate exemplary writing practices in that discipline.
  2. Assign writing assignments throughout the course and respond to these in a timely manner.
  3. Teach revision practices through the sequence of student draft, teacher response, and student revision.
  4. Give students opportunities to reflect on and talk about their written work.
  5. Provide instruction in the process of reading for gaps in the scholarly conversation and for developing an appropriate research question or experimental hypothesis to address those gaps.
  6. Provide students opportunities to engage in reasoned, evidence-based arguments characterized by respectful, open-minded discourse.
  7. Encourage students to make use of University resources such as the Writing Center, the Hesburgh Libraries, and the program in English for Academic Purposes.
  8. Encourage students to read widely and often.

In addition, the Writing subcommittee has prepared guidelines and a sample template for articulating how a course might meet the above goals.