First-year Writing Courses: General Description
Taken by all Davidson students in their first year of study, WRI 101 provides a formative experience in the arts of composing prose of the sort produced by academic and other intellectual writers. The course equips students with the skills and rhetorical sensibilities associated with writing in the liberal arts: critical analysis of texts and ideas; verbal and written deliberation about issues over which reasonable persons disagree; the crafting of inventive, correct, and sophisticated prose; and the ability to adapt one’s writing to a variety of intellectual occasions. WRI 101 asks students to respond to complex issues in ways that do not depend solely upon disciplinary methods and languages for their investigation and commentary. The course prepares students for their academic work beyond the first year and for their civic and professional engagements after college.
All WRI 101 courses have the following elements in common:
- Students receive guided practice in drafting and revising texts, understood as the most important activity of the course (approximately 40 pages of prose for the semester, including informal writing, drafts and revisions).
- Students receive generous response to their writing, both from the instructor and peers.
- Students are instructed in techniques for critical reading, written analysis, and written argument.
- Students are given opportunities to write in response to issues and texts which can be approached through multiple perspectives, with various intellectual commitments, and by various avenues of inquiry.
- Students are instructed in how to write with integrity and how to make fair use of the work of others.
- Students receive library instruction tailored to the specific needs of the course.
Though the specific reading, writing, and research projects assigned across the many WRI 101 courses vary by professor, all WRI 101 courses embrace four instructional objectives:
- Reading texts closely and critically for analytic and rhetorical purposes.
Critical reading anticipates the eventual use of a text in one’s writing, and requires a sustained examination of the nature, structure, and quality of that text. Critical readers work to discern the context of a document’s production and distribution, note its rhetorical and stylistic features, and locate its historical moment within a tradition of inquiry. Critical analysis is an act of paying attention to how other writers assemble evidence, interpret their objects of study, and argue for particular conclusions. Often, critical readers reckon with difficulty, ambiguity, and innovative thinking.
- Making fair and effective use of the work of others.
Responding to and making effective use of the work of others is a seminal feature of writing in the liberal arts. The course provides opportunities for students to make interesting use of others’ texts and ideas in their own writing, and teaches students to do this responsibly, ethically, and in accordance with Davidson College’s Honor Code. Students are expected to adhere to professional conventions for quotation, summary, and paraphrase, and to treat others’ work with imagination and respect by offering contextually-sensitive representations of others’ positions, and accounting for differences in others’ perspectives and approaches.
- Drafting and revising arguments.
The actual labor of producing intellectual writing involves taking a document through stages of drafting and revising. This process is aimed not only at correcting errors and polishing style, but at improving the quality of one’s analysis or argument in light of reviewers’ commentary and an enhanced understanding of readers’ needs and expectations. Such revision may involve qualifying and sharpening claims, addressing counterarguments, extending supportive evidence, refashioning appeals, adjusting tone, stipulating definitions of key terms, strengthening structural coherence, etc. Revision may also entail reconceiving one’s approach to the issue at hand. The final steps of revision include editing for clarity, proofreading, and attending to document design, involving (at times) the use of visual and multimedia resources.
- Making smart use of the library’s print and digital resources to serve scholarly interests and writerly goals.
The course introduces students to the culture of the academic library, with its special strategies for organizing information and knowledge. All WRI 101 courses ask students to produce at least one document that draws upon multiple sources for its argument. Some courses ask students to produce a lengthy research paper, with the process of library research and writing sequenced over a portion of the semester. Other WRI 101 courses ask students to compose bibliographic essays, annotated bibliographies, or research guides. Still others ask students to discern citational patterns in order to reveal the history of a particular document’s reception and use. Students are expected to do a measure of their work in Little Library, and to develop a working knowledge of its informational resources, including how to differentiate among various print and digital archives, how to access them effectively, how to judge their authority, and how to determine a particular source’s value for the project at hand.