Pilot of New Criteria for Second Writing Requirement Courses

The Committee on Educational Policy and the Curriculum (CEPC) has approved a two-year curricular pilot in the College which allows Second Writing Requirement (SWR) courses to use either (1) the existing SWR criteria or (2) the new writing-enhanced (WE) criteria. Read on for information about both options and guidance on the new review process, required for all new SWR courses. Please note: faculty seeking a new SWR designation must specify to the CEPC which criteria they plan to use for their SWR course.

Regardless of the criteria used, all SWR courses must be taught in the College of Arts and Sciences, in order to fulfill the CAS requirement. Exception: If a student took an otherwise qualifying course in another School of the University of Virginia before transferring into the College, the course will satisfy the SWR.

Step 1: Two Options to Meet SWR Course Requirements


Option One: Existing SWR Criteria 

Courses using the existing SWR Criteria to meet the SWR must adhere to the following:

  1. Be designated as appropriate for the development of writing skills;
  2. Have at least two writing assignments totaling 4,000 words (20 pages or more);
    1. Assignments must be written in English
    2. Blue books, quizzes, and exams do not count.
  3. Have a student/instructor ratio no greater than 30/1;
    1. Teaching Assistants may be counted as instructors, but graders may not.

Option Two:  New WE Criteria

Courses using the new WE criteria to meet the SWR must adhere to the following:

1. One major learning objective for the course must be the development of student writing, which is reflected in the final course grade.

Writing assignments should be designed to engage students in the content and ideas of the course. Specifically, the writing tasks should include a combination of shorter, lower-stakes assignments (called Writing to Learn or W2L tasks) and more formal, sophisticated assignments (called Writing to Communication or W2C tasks). Incorporating both types of assignments allow students to practice writing as a mode of inquiry and a means of communicating their ideas.

By making writing a significant portion of the final grade, the instructor communicates to students the importance of writing, while also matching the assessment to the course objectives. The goals and objectives of the writing assignments should be made clear to students, in order for them to recognize the types of knowledge and skills they will gain from these assignments.

2. Multiple writing assignments are sequenced and distributed over the course of the semester.

These assignments should include both shorter, lower-stakes tasks (W2L) and more formal, sophisticated assignments (W2C). By distributing writing assignments over the course of the semester, students will have multiple opportunities to practice. These distributed assignments should be sequenced and scaffolded so that tasks build on each other. For instance, early assignments might require students to practice skills they will further develop in later, more complex assignments.

Writing may take a number of forms, including conventional essays, print texts, and other word-dominant multimedia projects, such as web sites or graphic novellas. However, to ensure the course is writing-enhanced, students should write a minimum of 15-20 double-spaced pages (or the equivalent in word-dominant multimodal projects), which may include both drafts and final versions of assignments. Of this total, at least 10 double-spaced pages should be finished, polished writing.

3. Students are required to revise at least 1 longer assignment based on feedback from the instructor and/or peers. This longer assignment should be developed through a multi-step drafting process.

By allowing students the opportunity to revise one longer assignment based on feedback, instructors engage students in writing as a process, make tangible the issue of audience, and develop students’ abilities to evaluate and implement feedback. Students can engage in the drafting process in a number of ways, including writing a brief topic proposal, creating an outline and talking through it with the instructor or peers, writing an annotated bibliography, engaging in a guided peer review, or composing a partial or complete draft.

By requiring revision of one longer assignment, the instructor can incorporate those drafting/revision steps into the evaluation of that paper. This paper need not be significantly longer than others in the course. What is most important is the incorporation of a drafting process.

4. The course provides writing instruction and repeated opportunities to discuss and practice writing.

Instructors do not need to provide students explicit grammar instruction or expect grammatically perfect writing. Instead, the main goals of writing instruction in WE courses should be to help students (1) continue to engage with the writing process, (2) recognize how the basic concepts of academic writing (such as audience, purpose, etc.) can be useful in disciplinary contexts, (3) understand how to complete writing assignments successfully, and (4) understand, identify, and repeatedly practice disciplinary or field-specific writing conventions. (See the teaching suggestions below.)

After all, each discipline has its own habits of mind, which are reflected in its writing conventions (Carter, 2007). As such, students engaging with the ideas and methods of those disciplines often best learn to recognize and produce those disciplinary conventions through repeated practice and guided instruction from disciplinary experts (Beaufort, 2007; Soliday, 2011).

Suggestions for Offering Writing Instruction

Providing guided instruction is an important way to develop students’ writing proficiency. Some of the most effective forms of writing instruction can be integrated easily into the overall structure of any course. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Incorporate lower-stakes (W2L) activities throughout the semester;
  2. Walk students through the assignment sheets or writing prompts during class;
  3. Support metacognition about the writing process by explaining the role of drafts and other sub-tasks;
  4. Introduce students to written models, such as sample student papers or published examples;
  5. Identify and explain the key features of those models that students will be expected to learn and produce;
  6. Teach students to recognize for themselves those key features in the course readings and other written models;
  7. Offer students opportunities to practice composing those key features with both W2L and W2C assignments;
  8. Provide students guided practice in writing with and from source materials;
  9. Guide students on how to review their peers’ writing to provide feedback on those key features;
  10. Evaluate student writing using a grading rubric or scoring guide that reflects those key features.

These suggestions make explicit for students the tacit knowledge about writing conventions and purposes that have become second nature to scholars trained in a discipline. These tips also increase students’ writing competence by teaching them to recognize and produce key features and types of disciplinary writing (Goldschmidt, 2014, 2017; Lindenman, 2015).

Step 2: Review Process for All SWR Courses

Any course seeking a new SWR designation (regardless of the criteria) will be reviewed by a University committee of faculty, chaired by the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum (T. Kenny Fountain). This SWR committee would offer advice to the instructor proposing the course and input to the CEPC Executive Committee concerning the proposed course’s alignment with the criteria chosen.

Before submitting a CCI form, instructors or department staff must complete the following questionnaire and upload a copy of their course syllabus and weekly schedule. By answering these questions, instructors will specify which criteria their SWR course will use and briefly explain how the course will incorporate each component of the criteria. Before submitting the questions, instructors will be asked to attach their syllabus and weekly schedule.

Here is a link to the questions: https://virginia.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_dmUWaAbh1pZB46p

The SWR committee consists of the Director and the Associate Director of Writing Across the Curriculum (T. Kenny Fountain and Heidi Nobles, respectively), as well as at least one faculty member with disciplinary expertise in line with the SWR-seeking course. This faculty member will be called upon to review materials related to their disciplinary orientation. For example, a faculty member in the sciences would be asked to review the materials for a SWR-seeking course in the sciences.

The SWR committee will review the syllabus, weekly schedule, and the completed questionnaire. The committee will create a brief (1-page maximum) recommendation that will be sent to the CEPC Executive Committee. The decision to grant any course a SWR designation will rest solely with the CEPC; the SWR review committee’s role is advisory.

If you have questions about this process or would like someone to review your materials before you submit them, contact T. Kenny Fountain at tkf3bb@virginia.edu.

Resources for Further Exploration

Why Consider the New WE Criteria ?

The purpose of the Second Writing Requirement (SWR) is to build on the experiences of UVA’s First Writing Requirement in order to improve students’ writing abilities. However, this existing SWR criteria is insufficient to ensure that SWR courses actually foster the development of student writing. For example, the existing SWR criteria presupposes that requiring students to produce longer papers improves their writing. However, there is no empirical evidence to support this supposition. Instead, Anderson, Anson, Gonyea, & Paine’s (2015) findings, which are supported by the studies listed below, suggest that requiring students to write fewer but longer papers with no revision or feedback has far less impact that requiring students to write shorter papers guided by a multi-step drafting process that includes revision and feedback.

Evidence-Based Practices to Develop Student Writing

More specifically, the existing SWR criteria fail to include the following key evidence-based practices proven to develop students’ written abilities:

  1. Inclusion of deliberate, focused practice in writing through multiple occasions to write (Kellogg & Whiteford, 2009; Graham, Harris, & Chamber, 2017; Klein, Arcon, & Baker, 2017)
  2. Incorporation of some type of multi-step drafting process for major writing assignments (Galbraith & Baaijen, 2018; Sommers, 1980; Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 2002)
  3. Opportunities to revise one’s writing in response to meaningful feedback (Anderson, Anson, Gonyea, & Paine, 2015; MacArthur, 2017; Traxler & Gernsbacher, 1993)
  4. Guidance and instruction that models ways of writing and thinking students are expected to develop (Santiago, Harris, & Graham, 2017; Thaiss & Zawacki, 2006).

The WE criteria are designed to make it easier for SWR courses to incorporate these practices.

What Resources Are Available to SWR Instructors?  

T. Kenny Fountain, the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum, and Heidi Nobles, the Associate Director, offer a variety of resources for faculty, departments, and schools seeking to enhance a culture of writing in their courses and curricula. These resources include the following:

  1. Consultations with faculty: in-person, online, or phone meetings to discuss ways of implementing the WE criteria into your SWR course.
  2. Workshops for faculty: hour-long sessions focused on any of the following topics:
  • incorporating the new WE criteria into your SWR course;
  • responding to student writing and managing the paper load;
  • structure peer review sessions (in class or out of class);
  • guiding students in writing with sources;
  • offering forms of writing instruction and guidance that fit inside a content-heavy course.

If you have questions about workshops or to arrange a consultation, email T. Kenny Fountain.

What is Writing Across the Curriculum Anyway ?

What Does Writing Across the Curriculum Mean?

To foster and sustain a culture of writing, UVA has adopted a pedagogical approach often known as Writing Across the Curriculum (or WAC). The common goals of WAC initiatives are (1) to develop students’ writing abilities across their academic careers, (2) to increase students’ writing proficiency, (3) to deepen students’ engagement with learning, (4) to foster a campus culture that supports writing, and (5) to create a community of faculty around teaching and student writing (Statement on WAC Principles & Practices, 2014).

How Do we Do This?

The WAC approach does this by recognizing writing as both a cognitive tool that augments and deepens learning (Kellogg, 2008; Klein & Boscolo, 2011) and a mode of expression that allows the communication of ideas to various audiences. In order for students to develop and sustain their writing skills and deepen their engagement with learning, students need to engage with assignments that practice writing to learn (Anderson, Anson, Gonyea, & Paine, 2015) and writing to communicate, especially in courses that expose students to disciplinary forms of writing (Beaufort, 2007). WAC initiatives encourage this by strategically integrating writing practice and instruction across a series of courses that incorporate writing to learn (W2L) and writing to communicate (W2C).

What Are W2L and W2C Assignments?

W2L assignments are often informal or shorter writing tasks that engage students in focused inquiry, reflection, response, and meaning-exploration (such as reflection tasks, short reading responses, and impromptu in-class writing). W2C assignments are more formal, often longer writing tasks that require students to engage with sources in a more thorough manner by taking a stand or offering insights, usually using discipline-specific conventions (such as literature reviews, research proposals, seminar papers, memos, reports, and research-based essays).

How Does This Help Our Students?

WAC is implemented through writing-intensive or writing-enhanced (WE) courses (usually taken after the first-year writing course) that allow students to further practice their writing by engaging with and learning disciplinary conventions from faculty with expertise in those disciplines (Strachan, 2008). WE courses have been recognized by the Association of American College and Universities as “high-impact practices” that increase student engagement and retention (Kuh, 2008). Also, WE courses have been shown to increase students’ understanding of course content and develop their critical thinking skills (Hilgers, Hussey, & Stitt-Bergh, 1999) as well as increase students’ self-efficacy and writing proficiency (Blakeslee, Hines, Primeau, McBain, Versluis, & McCaffery, 2017). WE courses have been implemented in a host of disciplines, including anthropology biochemistry, biology, chemistry, economics, history, nursing, physics, sociology, theatre, and engineering.

The SWR is, in fact, a type of WE course designed to develop students’ writing proficiency and deepen students’ engagement with learning.


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