WI Program


Begun in the fall of 1982, the Writing Intensive Program today is staffed by faculty from virtually every department on campus and affects almost all degree-seeking students. According to the revised Writing Intensive requirement that will go into effect in the fall of 2008, every student must pass at least four WI courses in order to graduate. (BLS students must pass at least three WI courses.) Students may fulfill this requirement by choosing from a wide range of courses designated Writing Intensive by the various departments on campus.

The program is based on the following premises:

  • that writing is a tool that enhances learning in most courses across the disciplines and is an essential form of expression in most academic fields;
  • that good writing is valued in most careers;
  • that instructors across the disciplines share the responsibilty of helping students become good writers;
  • that by writing frequently and receiving guidance, students are likely to improve their writing.

The goals of the program, then, are (a) to enhance students’ understanding of course material by having them write frequently about that material and (b) to help students become better writers.
To assist in meeting these goals, Writing Intensive courses should include the following:


A Writing Intensive course must provide interaction between the instructor and students while students complete assigned writing throughout the semester. Types of interaction will vary, depending on the level of the course, the subject and the discipline, and the pedagogy that best suits the instructor’s goals for the course. In every Writing Intensive course, the instructor should provide clearly defined writing assignments, including clear statements of the goals and requirements of each assignment; helpful commentary on each student’s written work; and some instruction in class of writing before each assignment is due and after it is returned. In addition, the instructor might provide guidance by assigning a writing text, conducting mini-lessons on writing and distributing handouts on writing, conferring with students individually or in groups about drafts of their papers, critiquing early drafts of papers or having the students critique one another’s drafts, and encouraging or requiring students to seek help from the Writing Center.

The templates that follow illustrate a few of the numerous ways UMW instructors guide students in WI courses:

  • An Instructor who requires several short papers demonstrates techniques for drafting and revising, guides students during the composition of each paper, and requires students to seek responses from classmates and/or the Writing Center.
  • An Instructor who requires a series of short papers, such as lab reports, thesis abstracts, or mathematical proofs, writes comments on each paper and returns it promptly so that students benefit from the feedback before they write their next assignment.
  • An instructor who requires the completion of one long paper reviews sections of the paper, writes comments on drafts, and is available for conferences with students.
  • An instructor who requires the completion of one long paper requires students to write several short papers connected to the longer paper, such as a proposal, an annotated bibliography, and/or critiques of articles or books.
  • An instructor who requires a final portfolio collects a series of papers throughout the semester, gives students suggestions for revision and guides the class in peer critique workshops, but grades only the finished papers presented in the students’ portfolios at the end of the semester.

II. Writing Opportunties

Writing Intensive courses usually include both informal and formal writing. Designed to further enhance students’ understanding of and appreciation for course material, informal writing assignments such as journals, reading responses, and in-class writing, also prepare students for the course’s more polished formal writing.

Though preferred writing styles, formats, and tasks vary from one discipline or field to another, the faculty have agreed that effective formal writing emerges from attention to the following features (Learning Outcomes):

  • Ideas (focused, substantial, clearly presented, sufficiently and appropriately elaborated with explanations, supporting details, and/or reasons or evidence)
  • Organization (recognizable structure, logical sequence, clear transitions, purposeful)
  • An appropriate writer’s voice (tone, word choice, and degree of formality fit the context, communicates confidence in addressing readers’ expectations, establishes credibility, a recognizable “persona” who “speaks”)
  • Conventions of correctness and presentation (editing reflects knowledge of conventions of punctuation, spelling, formatting, fair use of sources, documentation, etc.)

Successful writing, of course, is always dependent on the context of the assigned task. Effective writers learn to analyze assignments, notice the differences between types of writing (reports, narratives, critical responses, reviews, personal reflections, etc,) and anticipate their readers’ needs (for specialized vocabulary, types of evidence, strategies of presentation, etc.).

To achieve these goals, a Writing Intensive course must require at least twelve formal pages in formats appropriate to the discipline involved. Individual WI courses in many disciplines often exceed this minimum page requirement. (A WI course may include collaborative writing, but such writing must be in addition to this required number of pages.) This requirement must be broken into a minimum of three assignments, reasonably spaced throughout the semester, each of which should be marked and returned promptly. Though one essay test may be counted as one of these assignments, the final examination may not be since it cannot be returned during the semester. A term paper not returned by the end of regular classes may be counted if it has been divided into separate graded stages or if it has gone through a multi-stage revision process.