Course Planning for Better Writing

It’s that time of year again: course registration is upon us! As you probably know, the planning period officially began on April 5th and closes next Monday, April 18th at 5:00 pm. There are a ton of fascinating courses available next fall (that make me rather envious of you underclassmen who still have years of quality liberal arts learning ahead of you). In fact, there are almost too many options, which leads to the inevitable question: how do I dive into the logistical minefield that is Wesmaps and emerge with a balanced schedule?

More specifically, and perhaps more relevant to this blog, how can I create a course schedule that will help me improve my writing?

If you are serious about making writing a priority next semester, there are plenty of courses designed to help you grow as a writer. In particular, start by looking at:

  1. Courses listed under the Writing Certificate or Writing Program. These courses will focus specifically on writing as a craft. In addition to churning out a lot of written assignments, you will be spend time reading about, analyzing, and discussing the process and technique of writing. Keep in mind that a lot of these classes are very popular, so rank them high if you want a seat!
  2. Courses that list “Writing” as an Essential Capability. According to the University, these courses “offer students the opportunity to develop writing skills useful in a variety of contexts and disciplines. Emphases will vary from course to course: some courses will emphasize research; others will focus on persuasion. All will help students make clear and effective presentations in formats appropriate to their disciplines and purposes.” (Learn more about Writing as a capability here.) In order for a course to be included in this category, the Professor has to commit to assigning a significant amount of written work and providing opportunities for students to discuss their writing. You can use the Wesmaps search function to find courses from every discipline that qualify.

While you’re perusing these options, keep the following words of advice in mind:

One of the best ways to improve as a writer is to just do it. Write. All. The. Time. If you’re on the fence about a class because of the amount of writing assigned, go ahead and take the plunge (assuming you have enough time in your schedule). If you’re really committed to growing as a writer, signing yourself up to write constantly is one of the best things you can do.

That being said, there is such a thing as too much writing. You probably will improve as a writer if you’re in four classes that all require you to hand in a two-page paper twice a week, but you likely won’t enjoy it. The key is balance: offset your writing-intensive courses with some math, foreign language, or dance. Just make sure you read the course descriptions first because writing pops up across all the disciplines!

Similarly, it’s important to strike a balance between the type, length, and frequency of writing throughout the semester. You don’t want to be kicking yourself next December because you are working on four research papers all due within three days of each other. Check out the “Examinations and Assignments” section on Wesmaps section to get a sense of the major assignments for each course you are thinking about taking. When you decide on your ideal schedule, draft up a quick list of the major assignments (response papers, research papers, tests, quizzes, problem sets, etc.) in these courses to get a sense of how you’ll be spending your semester. If your schedule load is too heavily concentrated in one area – for instance, it has you writing dozens of short reading responses but not a single research paper – you might want to consider revising your plan.

Finally, if you have any questions or need some advice on what courses to take, ask your advisor! Mention that you’re looking for quality courses that emphasize writing and he or she might have some great recommendations.

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