Resources for University Faculty
What do Princeton students learn about writing their freshman year?
All Princeton students take a topic-based Writing Seminar during their first year. The seminar introduces them to the fundamentals of academic inquiry and research, including how to construct interesting problems and questions, develop an original claim that intervenes in a scholarly debate, and assess and integrate a wide variety of sources.
They also develop the habits of revision and peer review at the heart of the scholarly enterprise, meeting in writing groups and offering each other constructive feedback on drafts.
The interdisciplinary nature of the seminars gives students early exposure to disciplinary differences in reading, writing, and research practices. Students enact this learning in small-scale writing assignments that culminate in a 10-12 page research essay.
- Current Writing Seminars
- A short video about student perspectives on the Writing Seminars
- More information about the Writing Seminars
How can I build on that learning to help my students develop as writers?
The Writing Seminar begins students’ journeys as academic writers by introducing them to the principles of academic inquiry and argument. Yet we know from research that writing is a local practice that’s discipline and genre-specific. Approaches that work in one context may not transfer readily to another. Students will need your guidance to learn how familiar writing concepts play out in your discipline.
The good news is that you can take advantage of what students already know as you help them gain confidence and skill as writers.
Reinforce Writing Concepts
One powerful way to reinforce student learning is to discuss professional and student writing in terms of the Lexicon (.pdf) familiar to all students from their Writing Seminar. The lexicon is a list of key terms describing the core elements of academic writing. Research suggests that students are better able to transfer their learning to new contexts when faculty and students share a language for describing writing.
Require Drafts and Set Draft Deadlines in the Syllabus
One of the best ways to improve student writing is by requiring drafts—ideally at least a week before the deadline for small and medium-scale projects. Requiring a draft increases the likelihood that students begin the writing process early and have an opportunity to revise--the key to producing their best work.
You can encourage students to visit the Writing Center at any stage in the writing process. Our motto? Every Writer Needs a Reader.
Responding to Student Writing (.pdf): Best practices for commenting on student writing.
Put Students in Writing Groups
If you’re unable to comment on drafts, consider having students provide each other feedback in writing groups that meet inside or outside of class. In their Writing Seminars students learn how to offer each other rigorous and constructive feedback on their drafts. They also submit cover letters with their drafts telling their readers what they think they did well and what they’d like to improve in the revision. If you’re an advisor, you might consider requiring cover letters so that you can focus your feedback on students’ concerns.
Writing Groups (.doc): Sample instructions to give students about Writing Groups
Draft Cover Letters (.docx): Sample student instructions about how to write Draft Cover Letters to accompany their essays or thesis chapters and direct your feedback.
Sample Guidelines on Getting and Giving Feedback (.doc): a handout to help students working in Writing Groups understand how to collaborative effectively and avoid infractions of the honor code.
Students produce stronger writing when assignments are clear and complex projects scaffolded as discrete tasks. For example, if you assign a research essay, you could set deadlines in your syllabus for a research proposal, an annotated bibliography, a section of the draft, and the complete draft. Again, Writing Groups can be a useful resource. Consider asking students to meet in groups to offer each other feedback on their progress. To help your students gain a clearer sense of your expectations, you might set aside fifteen minutes of class time to workshop a sample student essay as a model.
Elements of an Effective Writing Assignment (.pdf): Tips on how to craft assignments that are more likely to prompt focused and strong arguments.
Teaching with Writing
Students learn more efficiently when faculty communicate their expectations for good writing and develop assignments that help students practice acquiring this expertise. See Teaching with Writing (.pdf), a short handbook designed for Princeton faculty for a range of practical ideas about issues like designing effective assignments, teaching writing in your discipline, and facilitating peer feedback,
Writing Program directors are available to consult with faculty about integrating writing into courses, designing and sequencing effective assignments, grading and commenting on student work, and guiding students through junior independent work and the senior thesis.
What kinds of writing resources are available to my students?
The Princeton Writing Program offers a number of resources to support writers at all stages of the writing and research process.
- The Writing Center offers undergraduate and graduate student writers free, one-on-one conferences with experienced fellow writers trained to consult on assignments in any discipline.
- Dissertation Boot Camps offer writers a quiet space to write, focused thinking and writing time, camaraderie, and the opportunity to reflect on the writing process.
- Senior Thesis Writing Groups and Boot Camps offer the same experience but are tailored to prepare students for the challenges of the senior thesis.
- Writing in Science and Engineering (WSE) offers resources for writers in a broad range of quantitative and technical fields.