Teaching Conventions of Writing in Your Discipline

Writing Portfolios in Biology: Balancing Process with Product

Cindee Giffen, UW-Madison
A course coordinator explains why the course evaluates biology students' drafts, reviews, and final products together in one portfolio.

In Introductory Biology 152, all students engage in an Independent Project (IP), a semester-long staged writing assignment. Students write a project proposal, a first draft, and a final paper in scientific journal article-style, and present their results to an audience of their peers and instructors.

Why Should I Use Writing Assignments in My Teaching?

Brad Hughes, UW-Madison WAC Program
The premise of this WAC website--and of the WAC movement overall--is that effectively designed writing assignments enhance our teaching and our students' learning.  While acknowleding that assigning and evaluating writing is time consuming, this page offers a number of persuasive arguments why writing assignments are part of effective teaching and learning.

That's a good question, actually. Let's be honest–-there are, after all, many reasons why we might not want to assign writing in our courses. And many of those reasons have to do with the limited time we all can devote to teaching. Designing writing assignments and responding to student writing take valuable time—lots of time if we do them carefully.

Instructions for a Final Portfolio in a Sociology Course

Tona Williams, Sociology Department, UW-Madison
Having students submit all of their written work for the semester gives this instructor a chance to review each student's progress and remember her feedback much more specifically, all of which she considers when she's determining a final grade.

Instructor: Tona Williams
Lecturer: Prof. Gerald Marwell
Sociology 210--Survey of Sociology


Instructions for Final Portfolio in Sociology




Sample Evaluation Criteria for Papers in a Philosophy Course

Jocelyn Johnson, Philosophy Department, UW-Madison
This kind of rubric, from an undergraduate philosophy course on contemporary moral issues, not only emphasizes the traits of successful papers but also, with its continuum for each trait, gives students a quick visual sense of strengths and of areas to improve.  Notice that the instructor gives open-ended comments as well.  And notice the excellent explanations of the evaluation criteria--some terms, like "orginality," need explanining within the context of a particular course and particular assignment.

Sample Paper Evaluation Sheet in Philosophy



Name:_________________________________  Topic:_______________________________________________




Orienting Students to Writing in a New Discipline: Making a Sociological Argument

Greta Krippner, Sociology Department, UW-Madison
In introductory courses for majors, instructors need to help students learn the basics of conducting research and writing within that particular discipline.  In this handout for students, Greta Krippner explains strategies for making a sociological argument, for developing a sociological research question, and for reading a quantitative research article in sociology.

Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry.”   (Karl Marx, 1867)



Offering Students Encouragement As They Revise

Ann Burgess, Biocore Program, UW-Madison
Students often need and really benefit from some encouragement and advice as they revise papers to meet their instructors' high standards.  In the following email sent to all students in a large writing-intensive biology course at UW-Madison, Ann Burgess, the former director of the Biocore Program, explains the feedback TAs gave on the papers, differentiates between the larger, more conceptual revisions and smaller, more local ones, and offers valuable encouragement to motivate students as they do the hard work of revising papers in substantial ways.

Biocore Students:


I wanted to offer you some moral support as you tackle revising your Enzyme Catalysis papers.

*We want you to succeed.*

From Topic to Thesis

Tisha Turk, Gender and Women's Studies, UW-Madison
Instructors often have to help students learn how to make a strong, analytical or argumentative central claim in a paper, a claim that goes beyond a mere statement of fact or obvious point.  In this handout for her students, Tisha Turk explains and illustrates what she's looking for in a strong thesis statement.

A well-constructed thesis statement helps hold an essay together by showing the reader where the paper is going to go. It defines not just a paper’s topic but its argument, and introduces the kinds of evidence or mode of reasoning that will be used to back up that argument. It does not merely summarize the points that will be made; rather, it shows the relationship between those points.

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