One of the most valuable skills you will develop at the University is the ability to communicate effectively through writing. It is a skill that is universally valued by employers as well as graduate and professional programs, not to mention the instructors of your undergraduate courses. Writing cultivates self-expression and it fosters your ability to explain complex ideas. To that end, you must complete at least seven credits of writing-intensive ("W") courses.
This is in addition to the 5-credit English composition requirement. Many colleges and schools require more than seven credits, or specify what courses you can choose from. Consult the General Education Requirements by School and College to compare the English Composition and additional writing requirements for each major.
In college courses, your papers will not typically be summaries of what you have learned in class but in-depth exploration and investigation of aspects of topics discussed in lecture. In your papers, you will have the opportunity to develop your own ideas and interpretations concerning what you are learning in class. In fact, much of your university education will occur in the research and writing of papers required by your courses.
As you write, you will practice organizing your thoughts into logical, persuasive arguments. Allow time to rewrite and revise your writing. Review the comments instructors write on your papers and use what you've learned in your next paper. Work at improving your writing, and you will notice that your analytical and verbal communication skills also improve.
Where to find W courses
Courses that count toward the additional writing requirement are available in a wide range of departments. Although you shouldn't wait until the last minute to meet the W-course requirement, it was originally intended that at least some of your writing-intensive courses should be courses in your major, providing you with writing instruction and practice in your chosen area of study.
For most majors (including those in the College of Arts and Sciences, which requires 10 credits), writing courses may be additional courses from the English Composition list, or any courses designated in the quarterly Time Schedule with the comment "Writing." For student in the College of Engineering, please see specific departmental requirements regarding additional writing. In the Foster School of Business, one of the two writing courses can be additional composition or any W-course, but the other must be chosen from a short list of largely business communication classes (e.g., B CMU 301).
The easiest way to look for W courses is to use the General Education Requirement Course Search offered by the Office of the Registrar.
Any passing grade (0.7 or higher) is acceptable. Courses may not be taken on the satisfactory/not satisfactory (S/NS) grading option.
Overlap with other requirements
W courses may overlap with any other requirement except the 5-credit English composition course. The courses you use to satisfy the W-course requirement may also count toward your major, a minor, the Areas of Knowledge requirement, and/or the Q/SR requirement.
For transfer students
Many students transfer courses which required enough writing to qualify as W courses. A "W" usually means that a course requires either several short papers or a term paper with a required revision. If you think you have transferred a course that should count as a W course, consult your adviser.
For postbaccalaureate students
Postbaccalaureate students are not required to complete the additional writing requirement.
Some courses in the Time Schedule have the notation, "OPTIONAL W COURSE." In these courses, the professor will explain the writing requirements for those students who wish to receive a W. Students who complete the additional requirements will receive Ws on their transcripts; the other students in the course will not.
W by special arrangement
Many students make special arrangements to have a UW course count toward the W course requirement, even though it is not designated as a W course in the Time Schedule.
If you are taking a course that requires extensive writing, you can discuss with the professor the possibility of earning a W for the course. Some professors are not familiar with the W-course criteria; it is a good idea to print out the criteria below and take the list with you.
It is also possible for you and the professor to make an arrangement in which you alone will complete the extra work required to meet the W-course criteria. For example, a 10-page paper is not sufficient to meet the W-course criteria; but a 10-page paper which is graded by the professor and then rewritten by you and resubmitted does meet the W criteria. Professors can award Ws to individual students in a course; there is a place to mark Ws on the grade sheet they submit for the class at the end of the quarter. Any course which is posted with a W on your transcript can count toward the additional writing requirement.
If you have already completed a UW course that you feel satisfied the W-course criteria below, you can petition to have a W posted on the course. Print and use the W-Course Petition form.
NOTE: The W petition is only for UW courses already completed. For UW courses in progress, read "W by special arrangement" above. For transfer courses, see your adviser.
On the W petition form, you will describe the writing assignments you completed in the course. You must supply documentation: either the instructor's signature on the petition form, or the course syllabus describing the writing requirements, or the graded papers. The petition and documentation are submitted in-person to our office in 141 Mary Gates Hall; you can return and pick up the course syllabus or your papers a few days later. If the petition is approved, a W will be posted on your transcript.
Registering for W courses
Whether or not a course qualifies as a W course depends on how the course is taught that particular quarter, so there is no permanent list of W courses, and W courses are not indicated in the General Catalog. Each W course is indicated in the quarterly Time Schedule with the notation "Writing" or "Optional Writing Course."
You can generate a complete list of W courses with space still available with the General Education Requirement Course Search.
A W course must require 10-15 pages of graded, out-of-class writing, in the form of a longer paper plus a revision or two or more short papers.
- Papers may be graded by professors, instructors, TAs, and/or readers.
- Students should receive some feedback on their writing; that is, comments on papers should not be restricted to content only.
- Revisions do not count in the total number of pages of writing.
- Typical writing assignments are one 10-15 page paper with a revision, two similar 5-page papers, or two short book reviews and one longer paper.
- Take-home exams do not count toward the 10-15 page total, unless students are given ample time for thoughtful writing and revision, and exams are graded for writing (organization, clarity of expression) as well as content.
- Creative writing and verse writing do not count toward the 10-15 page total.
- Journals and annotated bibliographies do not count toward the 10-15 page total.
- The amount of writing required for a W is not determined by the number of credits assigned to the course. These criteria apply to all courses, even those earning only one or two credits.
- If the requirement is a major paper with an optional revision, the course may be posted "Optional W Course." The instructor will indicate the students who completed the W requirement on the grade sheet.