Critical Writing seminars

Choosing the right seminar

Every critical writing seminar follows the same rigorous curriculum and assessment process and standards. However, each of the three types described below is tailored to the specific needs of writers with differing backgrounds. Just as students who attended math- and science-intensive high schools may be better prepared for such courses at Penn, so too students who excelled at writing-intensive schools may be more advanced writers upon arrival. In turn, some students have had a bad experience with writing and, shying away from it, are not as practiced as their colleagues. Still others may have received substantial instruction in writing but have had limited exposure to specifically American English practices and conventions of writing demanded of Penn students.

During the first week of class, students take a writing diagnostic that helps the instructor determine whether they have enrolled in the course best suited to their needs. However, we find that students are often better able to make this determination themselves, given sufficient information. Proper self-placement saves students the inconvenience of switching classes and schedules during what is already a hectic time of year.

We encourage students to explore the descriptions below and choose the type of seminar that sounds most attuned to their level of preparation. Students who are properly placed typically do well in their seminars, while those who enroll in one not tailored to their needs may quickly fall behind and have to take a second writing seminar to fulfill the requirement.

Students who answer yes to two or more attributes of a given seminar type are encouraged to enroll in that category of seminar.

WRIT 0000 to 0999

These seminars are similar to the second-semester writing seminars taught at other universities. With the exception of "Global English" (WRIT 0110, more information below), the assumption in these seminars is that students are fluent speakers and writers of American English and are knowledgeable about its basic conventions (organizational structure, plagiarism, spelling, etc). These seminars are best suited to students who:

  • are confident writers, who may make an occasional error but are generally in control of the fundamentals (grammar, usage, thesis, paragraph construction)
  • are confident readers, capable of analyzing and writing about English texts independently
  • have had considerable writing practice and guidance in high school (an average of 4 or more pages per week)
  • anticipate needing some individual guidance from tutors or instructors, but not frequent meetings with either

For students who would benefit from a more individualized and targeted approach to college writing, we offer two other seminars.

WRIT 0020: Craft of Prose

This seminar fulfills the writing requirement, follows the same curriculum and has the same workload, assessment process and standards as all other writing seminars at Penn. However, seminar enrollment is capped at 12 and instruction includes a significant amount of individualized attention and guidance. While each session has a topic, the emphasis is on the study and practice of writing. Students in the Craft of Prose sections get considerable feedback and mentoring from tutors as well as their instructor. This, along with practice, can significantly accelerate students' writing skills. Only Freshmen and Sophomores are eligible to enroll in Craft of Prose.

The Craft of Prose seminars are best suited to students who might answer "yes" to two or more of the following:

  • are intellectually gifted but struggle with one or more of the following: organization and timely submission of assignments; reading comprehension; information processing; writing- or reading-related anxiety; perfectionism or other issues that interfere with reading or writing
  • did not get extensive practice and guidance on their writing in high school; for example, wrote fewer than four pages per week on average
  • lack confidence in themselves as writers or feel that they need additional help with fundamentals
  • do not like to read, are slow readers, or are anxious about reading and analyzing advanced texts
  • anticipate needing a fair amount of individual guidance and feedback
  • tend to do considerably better with creative rather than academic writing assignments

WRIT 0110: Global English

This seminar fulfills the writing requirement, follows the same curriculum, and has the same workload, assessment process and standards as all other writing seminars at Penn. The Global English seminars focus on a scholarly topic within the field of global English -- for example, studies of films or literature written in English by non-native speakers; global human rights; digital culture; and other topics that are published in English but written by and for non-native as well as native speakers of the language. Along with this global focus, what distinguishes the Global English seminars is that they are intended for international students and sensitive to their needs, including instruction in the conventions and demands of American English college writing. International students especially enjoy these small seminars in their first year at Penn because they provide an international community that is also adjusting to life and college in the States.

Students who find the Global English seminars best suited to their needs include those who:

  • may have attended American or English schools, but have not studied American English writing in the contiguous United States
  • are not native speakers of American English
  • are fluent in English but struggle with certain aspects of American English, such as articles or verb tenses
  • would benefit from specific instruction in such issues as plagiarism, citation, and the organization and voice expected of American English college work

If after reading about these different options you are still uncertain about which seminar is right for you, please do not hesitate to consult with your adviser or with a member of the writing program administration.

If you would like additional feedback, you are welcome to take the diagnostic essay in advance of arriving at Penn, or during orientation week, to get some additional guidance. To arrange to take an advance diagnostic essay, write

Advance diagnostics are best taken at least three weeks prior to the first day of class to allow sufficient time for them to be read and scored. However, we are happy to look at them at a later date, as time permits!