Preamble: The ability to utilize written language proficiently is the core academic value of the First-Year Seminar. Whatever other important elements the program contains—and there are several—the ability to communicate clearly in writing is and must be the cornerstone of what we do in FYS.

Each of us perceives writings importance in different ways. Some see it as the end result of critical thinking. Others perceive writing as the means of clarifying if not actually discovering what one thinks. Some see the student's capacity to connect herself with the world at large in a personal way as a primary goal of writing. Others see writing instruction as paving the way for proficient use of a myriad of discourses, the outfitting of an intellectual toolkit. Some emphasize analytic writing; others would insist that persuasive writing is central. Given such varied emphases, it should come as little surprise that ways of teaching writing vary widely among FYS instructors. This diversity of approach is healthy, allowing us to tap each other for ideas and gain insights from our discussions.

Nevertheless, students moving between instructors at midterm of their first year have every right to expect that the writing expectations are sufficiently congruent among all sections that they will be able to perform adequately with a new instructor. One way to make sure that all sections meet this expectation would be to teach from a uniform syllabus. As a teaching cohort we deemed this unnecessarily constrictive. In the alternative we adopted certain expectations for each term and left the means of reaching those goals to individual instructors. Such an approach produces the necessary similarity among sections while at the same time guaranteeing instructors the greatest possible latitude.
What follows is the list of goals that provides students a solid grounding in written expression by the end of their first year, with a measured division of skills between the two terms. The construction of these standards owes much to the thoughtful discussions and teaching experience of several CLA faculty including: Jonathan Glance, Gordon Johnston, Nash Mayfield, Mary Alice Morgan, Mike Cass, Charlie Thomas, David Nelson, and Kenneth Hammond and Gary Richardson.


Fundamental: By the end of the term:

1. Students should have the ability to use the language correctly (mastery of all the spelling, punctuation, and grammar conventions). These are conventions and students should be expected to observe the conventions that educated people have agreed on and that readers expect. If they ignore the conventions, they won't appear as educated people themselves and readers will tend to dismiss their work out-of-hand.

2. Students should be able to structure an essay with a clear thesis (not necessarily stated in the paper, but a clear and obvious thesis) that is supported by evidence. Such a paper will require an introduction and a conclusion which open the topic and provide closure to the essay. It will also require support or body paragraphs which are indeed paragraphs, i.e., units which have some reason for being what they are.

3. Students paper's should utilize transitions, both within paragraphs and between them.
(Students who can not perform adequately in these three fundamental areas should not receive a passing grade in FYS 101. We may well be able to influence their critical thinking skills, their oral communications, or their computer literacy at a later point. But if they have not mastered these rudimentary skills, they have little chance to succeed in their subsequent work, As much as we wish to avoid repetitions of FYS 101, better that they repeat the course than that we doom them to failure in their undergraduate career.)

More advanced:

1. Students should be able to respond to a work of literature, sometimes in terms of interpretation and analysis, sometimes in terms of relating that work to their own lives, an understanding of where they are in the process of composing themselves.

2. Ability to see relations between and among various works of literature. How, for example, do both Twelfth Night and Great Expectations embody some of the ideas about friendship that we find in the Nicomachean Ethics? How does an understanding of the account of paradise lost in Genesis lead us to appreciate what is going on in Great Expectations? And so on.

3. Ability to find and use material that will help them understand what they are reading. Le., they need to use the library and the Internet, newspapers and television. They need to understand the obligation to use such sources responsibly. They need to know how to incorporate into their writing the ideas of other people, giving credit when and where credit is due. This can probably be done informally just as effectively as through formal documentation. In other words, students should not necessarily be expected to write full-blown research papers until second term.


Fundamental: All of the above, only more so. Substandard usage, carelessness in spelling and proofreading should not be accepted.

More advanced:

1. Attention to style: things like word choice, sentence structure and variety. Students should begin to realize that they have a voice and that they can choose to modify that voice for effect.

2. A careful use of and integration of sources into a more formal researched paper than students have to do in the fall semester. The particular orientation of this paper—whether it is analytic or persuasive, for example; or what variety of source material it utilizes—is the instructor's decision. Nevertheless, students should learn how to evaluate and use source material and how to document their sources. The standard documentation style for FYS 101 and FYS 102 is that found in the MLA Handbook


The need to rewrite and revise should be emphasized. Early drafts should rarely ever be the final word on a topic. The idea that we re-visit a paper, and maybe do so often, as we re-think a topic is crucial to the learning process. There are various ways this can be done, of course. Drafting workshops, peer-editing, portfolios all contribute in one way or another to the goal. Professors and students should work together to find a procedure that works for individual sections and, ideally, for individual writers.