Designing a Writing Intensive (WI) Syllabus

As instructors, we understand the importance of the syllabus: it is the course “contract” where students can find objectives, expectations, policies, assignments, and more. We want to ensure that our syllabus communicates clearly what will be expected of students over the course of the semester, both to better prepare them for the work ahead as well as to avoid any future confusion or disagreement over course policies or grades. Designing a clear, comprehensive syllabus can be challenging enough as is, but for the instructor of a Writing Intensive course there is the additional challenge of communicating WI-specific goals. Below are just a few strategies for integrating WI requirements with individual course content:

  1. Clearly identify your syllabus as ‘Writing Intensive’ and explain what it means to you as an instructor.

Note clearly and early on in your syllabus that your course has been designated Writing Intensive, and that students should therefore expect to write frequently, both in and out of class. Beyond this, we encourage you to make this section your own: how exactly do you envision your students using writing? Do you want students to write responses to the assigned readings? Blog posts? Lab reports? Thesis-based research papers? Will students be writing every week? Every class? This can and should be tailored to your unique discipline, in whatever way you feel best suits your course.

  1. Include course objectives that are WI specific.

Again, this will look different depending on your individual discipline and course. Ask yourself what your overall course outcomes are and how you can utilize writing to help your students achieve those goals—perhaps you might ask students to define important course terms and concepts in writing; compose a lab report using discipline-specific vocabulary and formatting; write an argumentative paper on a controversial topic in the field; or explain a complicated theorem in layman’s terms. However you choose to incorporate writing in your course, make it clear to your students that they will be writing in order to engage with and better understand the course material.

  1. Include a comprehensive course calendar that indicates assignment due dates and the steps of the scaffolding process.

Including a course calendar in your syllabus helps to orient your students and communicate your expectations and their responsibilities: what deadlines must students be aware of? When can they expect quizzes, exams, or paper due dates? What do they need to do in preparation for a particular class? For WI courses incorporating WAC pedagogy, this is especially important: all major assignments should be scaffolded (i.e., broken up into smaller assignments that are completed gradually over a period of days/weeks), and students must be made aware of when each individual assignment/component is due.

These are just a few of the elements of a well-designed WI syllabus. For more strategies, techniques, and examples, attend our  faculty workshop on Creating a Writing Intensive Syllabus.

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