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Editorial: Fully meeting the writing requirement

Brown’s one and only curricular requirement is the writing requirement — an indication of the University’s insistence on a liberal arts education. The writing requirement can be fulfilled by a wide variety of classes, from those offered in the computer science department to classes in cognitive science and sociology. The requirement may be fulfilled by taking a course that includes extensive writing, but this by no means necessarily entails extensive feedback. While most professors have extensive writing skills from years of writing academic papers and often books, it is difficult to receive meaningful feedback on writing at Brown. The current system makes it difficult for students to become better writers throughout their undergraduate education.

The literary arts department offers courses ranging from fiction and poetry to screenwriting and digital language art. Certainly these classes would be an experiment in improving one’s writing skills overall, but they cater to a more creative and specialized form of writing than the average student is likely to be looking to develop. The English department, on the other hand, does offer writing courses likely to appeal to Brown students focused on devloping their more practical writing skills. ENGL0110: Critical Reading and Writing I: The Academic Essay, ENGL0130: Critical Reading and Writing II: The Research Essay, ENGL0180: Introduction to Creative Nonfiction and even ENGL0160: Journalistic Writing come to mind. In addition to these courses, students have access to the Writing Center, which offers students a place where associates help students with “writer’s block, audience awareness, argumentation, organization, grammar, research skills, the conventions of academic writing, English as a Second Language and issues of clarity and style.” Beyond these formal options for improving writing, there are dozens of campus periodicals and collections that accept submissions and provide the opportunity to collaborate with other student writers.

Despite these options at each student’s disposal, the potential for meaningful feedback is still limited. Smaller workshop courses offer the chance to receive such feedback, but if you have ever shopped a creative nonfiction course or one of the popular introductory literary arts classes like Fiction I, you are likely familiar with the difficult process of getting one of the coveted 17 seats. The Writing Center is available for everyone, but it’s more likely to help students with the structure and organization of an argument than with improving broader communication and writing skills. Student-run periodicals and collections offer the chance to receive feedback from peers but rarely from experienced writers.

There is no easy process for creating a system wherein students receive more meaningful feedback on their writing. We believe that departments outside English and Literary Arts could work generally toward a goal of increasing feedback on writing. One option would be to offer courses that are specifically designated not as just courses that fulfill the writing requirement but as courses that emphasize significant professor or TA feedback on writing. Furthermore, the University might commit more funds to those departments that do offer small workshop courses in writing, since there is clearly high student demand for such courses. Given that the University has only one academic requirement — a demonstrated ability to write well — we believe Brown ought to follow through with providing the best opportunities for students to fully meet this goal.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

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