Writing for the Liberal Arts

This course provides practice drafting and revising papers and introduces students to the conventions of college-level academic writing, including critical reading, analysis, argumentation, and engagement with other writers' ideas and texts. Reading and writing assignments vary, but all sections of Writing for the Liberal Arts require at least fifteen pages of revised prose, multiple drafts and revision, peer workshops, and individual instructor conferences.

So that we can work together most effectively as a class, our readings and writings focus on a common theme: the value of a liberal arts education and the roles that writing can play both in that education and in life after college.

We focus on two sets of writing conventions: formal conventions—matters of words, sentences, paragraphs—but also what we might call intellectual conventions. Specifically, we:

  • read and respond to complex academic texts;
  • analyze and evaluate argumentation and evidence;
  • understand and use the conventions of academic discourse;
  • investigate the disciplinary assumptions that underlie those conventions;
  • identify and generate useful topics and questions for academic inquiry;
  • enter the written conversations that characterize scholarly work.

The course requires students to think critically about their own own writing and to discuss and practice writing as a process that involves planning and revising, not just panicky night-before-it's-due typing. No two people write, or approach writing, in exactly the same way; this class is intended to help the participants make informed decisions about what works for them.


  • Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein, They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, current edition
  • materials on electronic reserve