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Writing Flag Criteria and Interpretation

The following criteria were developed by the Faculty Council. The interpretations for each of the criteria were developed by the faculty committee that oversees the Writing Flag and were approved by the Undergraduate Studies Advisory Committee.

Recommendations on class size of Writing Flagged Courses

In order to ensure that Writing Flag classes provide the high-quality instructor feedback required by the Faculty Council’s criteria, the UGS Faculty Writing Committee recommends that, whenever possible, departments staff Writing Flag classes at no more than a 25:1 student-instructor ratio (including TAs). For more information, please visit our class size page.

Criterion #1

Require students to write regularly—several times during the semester—and to complete writing projects that are substantial. It is only through the practice of writing that students learn to improve their writing.

Interpretation

“Substantial” writing projects will vary in purpose and scope, but their development and organization should reflect sustained intellectual work. Substantial writing may be built from a sequence of smaller projects. Overall, substantiality should be judged by looking at the writing projects within the context of the class. Poetry, for example, would likely constitute a substantial writing project in a creative writing class, but not in other classes.

Assignments that would typically be considered substantial, depending on the discipline and the course:

  • Research papers and reports
  • Essays of analysis, criticism, or argument
  • Reviews (of books, articles, lectures, films)
  • Case studies
  • Position papers, reaction papers
  • Poetry, narratives, screenplays, works of fiction

Assignments that, when assigned in isolation, would typically not be considered substantial:

  • Peer responses
  • Freewriting or brainstorming exercises
  • Flowcharts, outlines, storyboards
  • Lesson plans, unit plans

Some types of writing may or may not be considered substantial, depending on the amount of sustained, connected, and organized writing they demand. For example:

  • Essay exams, when students write them outside of class, or revise them in response to instructor feedback, would typically be considered substantial. In-class essay exams that students complete in one sitting and do not revise would typically not be considered substantive.
  • Lab reports accompanied by references to theory and a full discussion of results would typically be considered substantive. Lab reports that require primarily a cursory description of methods and results, would not.
  • Emails, memos, letters, and similar professional documents, when they are assigned to teach the document’s genre and format, would typically be considered substantial. Emails written for informal communication, or to quickly report or summarize, would typically not be considered substantial.
  • Reading and lab journals that receive regular instructor commentary, that demonstrate the building of a body of knowledge, and that collect information later synthesized in a larger project, would typically be considered substantial. Journals that merely record discrete observations without synthesizing or analyzing them, and that do not receive detailed instructor feedback throughout the course, would not.
  • Oral presentations, poster presentations, and PowerPoint presentations would typically not be considered substantial; however, they may be drawn from written documents that would be considered substantial—e.g., a research paper or case study. In this case, the presentation may be considered a substantial revision of the written project.
  • Sustained writing in the development of Web sites or blogs could be considered substantial, but isolated blog postings or responses in class Web forums would not.

The Undergraduate Studies Faculty Writing Committee will make case-by-case decisions when the substantiality of a given project is not clear.

Criterion #2

Be structured around the principle that good writing requires rewriting and that careful reading and analysis of the writing of others is a valuable part of the learning process. Students must receive meaningful feedback from the instructor (or teaching assistant) so they can improve successive drafts. Instructors are encouraged to have students read each other’s work in order to offer constructive criticism.

Interpretation

At least one writing project should involve revision. “Rewriting” goes beyond the correction of grammar, mechanics, and usage. It typically involves the re-thinking of major arguments, organizational elements, perspectives, or stylistic choices in the project.

“Meaningful” feedback guides revision and improvement. It does more than point out error or sum up overall performance. Feedback need not consist solely of written comments; student-instructor conferences, for example, are an excellent means of providing meaningful feedback.

Constructive peer criticism can take many forms. Instructors may, for example,`

  • Have students respond substantively to one another’s work in online forums
  • Analyze a student paper as a class via overhead projection
  • Meet with small groups of students to revise papers
  • Have students respond to peers’ oral presentations based on written projects
  • Conduct formal, written peer review assignments

Criterion #3

Include writing assignments that constitute at least one-third of the final grade* in the course. These assignments must be graded on writing quality as well as content.

*For three-credit courses. For two-credit hour courses, at least one-half of the course grade should be based on Flag content.

Interpretation

Writing quality and content are often inseparable. This requirement simply holds students accountable for both their ideas and the clarity with which they express them.

Required Core Communication Objectives

In November 2011, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted a new Core Curriculum for all undergraduate degree programs. Because students fulfill three hours of their Core Communication requirement with a Writing Flag course, all courses flagged for writing should address the following new “core objectives”:

Critical Thinking Skills: to include creative thinking, innovation, inquiry, and analysis, evaluation and synthesis of information.

Communication Skills: to include effective development, interpretation and expression of ideas through written, oral and visual communication.

Teamwork: to include the ability to consider different points of view and to work effectively with others to support a shared purpose or goal.

Personal Responsibility: to include the ability to connect choices, actions and consequences to ethical decision-making.

The Writing Committee suggests meeting the THECB’s Teamwork objective through a peer review activity (see Criterion #2, above), or a group writing project.

The Writing Committee suggests meeting the Personal Responsibility objective by engaging students on the topic of academic honesty. This might involve including a classroom or out-of-class activity that allows students to identify what constitutes academic honesty for the discipline they are studying.