Academic Writing (Writing 101) is an introduction to scholarly writing practices and is the single course all Duke students must complete under Curriculum 2000. Individual courses are built around questions or issues that are both of scholarly interest to the instructor and accessible to first-year students, so courses will vary in selected readings, writing assignments, and disciplinary orientation. Yet the aim of Writing 101 is to help students develop as academic writers, so all sections are guided by the Writing 101 Course Goals and Practices: students learn to engage with the work of others, to articulate a position, and to situate their writing within particular rhetorical contexts. To do this they practice (1) researching and critical reading, (2) receiving and providing feedback (“workshopping”), (3) revising their drafts in substantial ways, and (4) editing and proofreading their documents. Students should leave the course with a reasonable understanding of both the role of writing in an academic community and the expectations and practices of scholars engaged in this work.
Writing 101 is taught primarily by a faculty of specially trained Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows whose fields span the academic landscape; a student of yours may have taken Writing 101 with a scholar of anthropology, history, biology, philosophy, literature, or engineering (among others)
Instructors across the academy often expect that students who have successfully completed a writing course should be “competent” writers needing no further instruction. To some of these teachers, student writing is a problem to be “fixed” and the purpose of a writing class is to do this repair. We suggest, however, that there is a more appropriate expectation: after one semester of study your students will have been introduced to the kinds of writing practiced in the academy and will have begun to develop fluency with this type of prose. We expect that students will learn much about writing during the 15 weeks of Writing 101; we challenge them with demanding readings and assignments, and we see that they get frequent, useful feedback on their work. Yet it is important to keep in mind that writing is a complex intellectual practice. Your students should, on the whole, be better at writing academic or professional prose having completed Writing 101, but they will still need you and your colleagues to help them grow as writers and to learn the conventions, strategies, and expectations that guide writing in your particular field.
An analogy may help here: A student cellist who enters college as a reasonably proficient player (for her age) will not be expected to attain proficiency of the instrument in a single semester. Rather, she should improve noticeably, but probably not uniformly across every facet of her musicianship. She may improve her vibrato, correct some intonation problems, and develop a more refined sensibility about interpreting certain types of music. Other students may show more improvements in other areas and less in these. It will take many years of guided practice for her to grow into a competent and versatile player, and she will continue to improve as long as she plays. So it is with writing.
It is likely that most of your students will have taken a Writing 101 course centered in the work of some field other than your own. They can draw on what they learned in Writing 101, but you will need to explicitly encourage them to do so and to help them understand and practice the writing of your discipline. Rather than expecting students to know, for example, the citation practices of your field, you should expect that they have only general knowledge: what kinds of things need to be cited, that citation practices vary across fields, and that instruction in these practices can be found in some type of handbook or guide. Similarly, they may not know what counts as acceptable evidence in your field, but they should understand that academic readers expect claims to be supported.
Building on Your Students' Writing 101 Learning
Writing instruction should not end with Writing 101. Students should continue enhancing their skills in other Writing-in-the-Disciplines (WID) courses.