Writing 101: Course Goals and Practices

Course Goals and Practices

Writing 101 introduces Duke first-year students to key goals and practices of academic writing. Students choose from among Writing 101 courses that are designed and taught by scholars trained in disciplines across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Thus, individual sections of Writing 101 often focus on different topics and readings, but all sections share an emphasis on writing as a social process and a commitment to helping students generate effective academic arguments.


While many of the specific features of academic writing vary from discipline to discipline, students in all sections of Writing 101 learn how to:

  • Engage with the work of others. In pursuing a line of inquiry or research, scholars need to identify and engage with what others have written about a text or issue. This academic move asks that writers read closely and attend to context, and that they make fair, generous, and assertive use of the work of others.
  • Articulate a position. The point of engaging with the work of others is to move beyond what has been said before. Scholars respond to gaps, inconsistencies, or complexities in the literature of their field and anticipate possible counter arguments in order to provide new evidence or interpretations that advance clear and interesting positions.
  • Situate their writing within specific contexts. In order to best contribute to their fields of inquiry, scholarly writers need to develop an awareness of the expectations and concerns of their intended readers. These expectations include not only appropriate and effective support for an argument, but also conventions of acknowledgement, citation, document design, and presentation of evidence.


The actual labor of producing a written academic argument usually involves taking a text through several drafts. In developing their work-in-progress, students in all sections of Writing 101 are offered practice in:

  • Researching. Students critically read scholarly work about their topics of interest. Depending on the field, this research may include locating sources, questioning methodology, examining evidence, identifying social or political contexts, or considering the implications of an academic work.
  • Workshopping. Academic writers re-read their own writing and share work-in-progress with colleagues in order to reconsider their arguments. Students learn how to become critical readers of their own prose through responding to one another in classroom workshops, seminar discussions, or conferences.
  • Revising. Students are asked to rethink their work-in-progress in ways that go beyond simply fixing errors or polishing sentences in order to extend, refine, and reshape what they have to say and how they say it.
  • Editing. As a final step in preparing documents for specific audiences, students are expected to edit for clarity, proofread for correctness, and make effective use of visual design.

As the first of three courses students must take to fulfill their writing requirements, Writing 101 emphasizes writing as a mode of intellectual inquiry, preparing students to identify relevant questions and articulate sophisticated arguments in their future academic work. Students will learn to apply these writerly skills and perspectives to the work of particular academic fields in subsequent Writing in the Disciplines courses. Writing 101 provides a foundation for students to learn new kinds of writing and become more critical readers of discourse, both inside and outside the university.