Questions & Answers


Who must take Writing to Learn (WL) courses?

All students seeking a baccalaureate (four-year) degree from PSU, except transfer students who have earned 55 or more credit hours prior to transferring to PSU, must complete two WL courses.

Who does not need to take WL courses?

Students who transfer to PSU with 55 credit hours or more are not required to take WL courses. Graduate students and students earning associates degrees or other non-baccalaureate degrees are not required to take WL courses.

How should WL courses be selected?

In selecting WL courses, students should look first for WL courses offered in their major. Insome majors, students will be able to earn all of their WL credits taking only WL courses thatare required for the major.  If WL courses are not included in the major, students should lookfor WL sections of general education courses that fulfill degree requirements. Students shouldbegin planning what courses to take as WL during their first semester in order to be sure tocomplete both WL courses using courses that fulfill degree requirements.

How can WL courses be identified?

WL courses are listed in the on-line course schedule each semester.  They are coded WL.There is also a separate list of WL courses off the on-line course schedule page.

How are WL courses tracked in GUS?

Completed or attempted WL courses are  marked "WL" on the grade report and on thetranscript. Only WL courses for which the student has earned a passing grade count towardfulfilling the WL requirement. The GUS degree audit shows how many WL courses the studentstill needs.


If you have writing problems you can visit The Writing Center, 112 Axe Library. It is available to all students free of charge.  To schedule an appointment, go to

  • Procedure for Requesting Writing to Learn Waiver
  • Writing Contract
  • WL Best Practices Stipend
  • WL Best Practices Documents
  • PSU Writing Rubric (Long Form)
  • PSU Writing Rubric (Abbreviated)
  • Sample Assignments
  • Sample Syllabi
  • Tips for Assigning Longer Papers
  • Discipline-based Writing Assessment
  • WL Statement of Intent / Philosophy Examples

Procedure for Requesting Writing to Learn Waiver

Note:  The waiver request is made by the Advisor to the Dean on the student's behalf.  Students cannot initiate this process by making a request directly to the Dean.

The Writing to Learn program at PSU is a four-course series that includes two composition courses and two WL courses. WL courses are offered in a variety of departments in both general education courses and courses that meet degree requirements for specific majors and minors. Students seeking to enroll in an upper-division WL course should be aware of possible prerequisites and other enrollment requirements.

Students who transfer to PSU with 55 credit hours completed are not required to take the Writing to Learn series of courses.  All other students, whether they have been at PSU from the start or have transferred with fewer than 55 hours, are expected to take two WL courses as part of their General Education studies.

Sometimes students believe they should be granted a waiver of the Writing to Learn requirement for one or both of the WL courses, usually because they have completed their General Education courses and taking a course for the WL requirement would constitute a hardship.  Only the student's advisor can request a WL course waiver, by writing a letter to the Dean of the college in which the student has his or her major.

Such a letter should be written only in rare or exceptional cases, in which it is clear that a waiver would be justifiable.  For instance, if a student transferred in with just under 55 credit hours and made a good-faith effort to take the requisite WL courses, the adivsor might decide to request a waiver.

The Dean of the college is the only one who can grant a waiver of the WL course requirement.  He or she makes the decision after reading the letter from the advisor in which the special circumstances are laid out.  The advisor should specifiy in the letter why he or she thinks the student should have the requirement waived (or not).  The advisor might want to consult with the WAC coordinator in the process of writing the letter. The decision is made by the Dean on the advice of the advisor, who knows the student's situation best.

In specific, infrequent instances, when the Dean believes this is the best alternative, the student can be given the option of taking a course in the major or minor which requires writing on a regular basis, instead of a WL course.  Such a course would not be a Writing to Learn course and would not be designated as such on the transcript, but it would be an argument for the student being granted a waiver.

It would be the student's responsibility to find a faculty member willing to work with the student in such a course.  Giving such help is entirely voluntary.  No faculty member is expected to do this extra work.  Any faculty member who voluntarily agrees to help the student, would have to agree to the terms of a writing contract, as provided by the Dean's office.

The Dean will notify the advisor of his or her decision, and will send the writing contract if that alternative is taken.

Best Practices for Writing-to-Learn Courses

1.  Grading Criteria

Formal writing submitted in a WL course is evaluated on the quality of content and effectiveness of writing according to criteria that are clearly stated in the instructions for the assignment or other course document (such as a grading rubric) distributed to students before they submit the final draft.

2.  Writing and the Course Grade

The writing component of a WL course represents a significant portion of the course grade, and a student cannot pass a WL course without earning a passing grade on the writing component of the course.

3.  Amount of Writing

In addition to any informal writing, assigned at the instructor’s discretion, WL courses include a minimum of 7 pages of formal writing for 100 and 200 level courses and a minimum of 12 pages for 300 level courses and above (7 or 12 pages of finished draft, not counting any working drafts submitted for review), distributed across the course in any combination of paper types and lengths. 

4.  Instructor Feedback

Students in a WL course receives formative feedback on their writing while there is still time in the semester for students to act on instructor feedback.

5.  Academic Honesty and Integrity

WL courses follow the University’s Academic Honesty and Integrity policy on plagiarism.  Therefore, assignments that allow or require students to use information from outside sources hold students accountable for using source material in an academically appropriate way.

Best Practices Documents

PSU Writing Rubric PDF MS Word

Abbreviated PSU Writing Rubric PDF MS Word

WL Best Practices Checklist PDF MS Word

WL Best Practices Documentation Sample PDF MS Word

WL Program Philosophy PDF MS Word

PSU Writing Rubric - Long form  PDF MS Word

PSU Writing Rubric - Abbreviated  PDF MS Word

Although each Writing to Learn class is unique in the way it is taught, there are some general writing assignment ideas that can be utilized across disciplines.  Writing assignments vary from informal writing, such as impromptu in-class writing, journals, personal responses to the readings, to formal writing consisting of fully-developed essays that go through revision.  Through these assignment examples, we hope to promote writing assignment ideas that are both beneficial and interesting to the students.  If there are any more assignments that are utilized that you believe would be good examples, please send them to either Dr. Zepernick or Dr. Judd and label them as WAC example or WL example. 

Automotive Technology Sample Documents


Automotive Technology Electronic Lab Diagnostic Analysis Report

Automotive Technology Electronic Lab Diagnostic Analysis Report Sample

Automotive Technology Electronic Lab Diagnostic Analysis Report Green Pen Check and Rubric


Explorations in Education Sample Documents

Explorations in Education Syllabus

Fluid Mechanics Lab Sample Documents

Engineering Technology Writing Rubric

Fluid Mechanics Lab Report Format (WL)

Fluid Mechanics Lab Research Paper (WL)

General Literature Sample Documents

General Literature Formal Writing One


Geography Sample Documents

World Regional Geography Assignments

World Regional Geography Grading Rubric

World Regional Geography Writing Instructions


Organic Chemistry Sample Documents

Organic Chemistry Lab Formal Report Format

Organic Chemistry Sample Lab Report

Assigning the Longer Paper in WL Classes


Much of the writing students do in WL courses is short and/or informal (short writes in class, responses to outside reading, journals).  But many WL instructors require one or two more extended pieces of writing that ask students to pull together what they have learned and to communicate their idea in some formal way.  Whether this is a "term paper" (i.e., an essay that comes at the end of the semester) or a research project or an essay that simply comes at the end of some segment of the class, there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you put the assignment together.


  • Know Your Purpose: Think about what you want your students to learn from your assignment and communicate that to them. Often students second-guess the purpose of an assignment and end up giving you something you didn't ask for. Your purpose will determine the length of the essay, too.
  • Choose Your Audience: Most students automatically presume that any essay is written to you, the expert. Therefore they might make leaps in their logic, expecting you to follow, or they give definitions that sound high-faluting but that don't show a real understanding of the concept. If you can give a more specific audience (other students in the class, perhaps, or a client), the students will often be more careful to explain their ideas and give examples.
  • Decide What Kind of Thinking You Want: Summaries are different from arguments: each entails a different kind of thinking. As you write your assignment, decide what kind or kinds of thinking you want your students to do, and then be explicit about that as you write. If you want students to take risks, say that. If you want students to use particular concepts from class, name those concepts. If you want a comparison and contrast, be clear about whether you want a block of information on point A and then a block on point B, or whether you want a point-by-point comparison, from A to B all the way through.
  • Choose Your Verbs Carefully: Depending on the verbs you use in your assignment, students will give you one kind of paper or another. If you say "Explain," the essay will be pretty much cut and dry. If you say "Argue," the student will need to use more creativity and evidence to make his or her case. If you say "Discuss," there's no telling what you will get, because the verb is too vague. Think about Bloom's Taxonomy of the levels of thinking. Do you want students to write an essay that shows they understand a concept, or an essay that shows they can apply the concepts to something new? If you want students to evaluate something, just remember that you are asking for the highest of all thinking skills.
  • Decide on the Essay Length: We joke about students asking how long a paper is supposed to be, but in fact this is a good question. A 10-page paper must have much more depth and study than a 2-pager. At the freshman and sophomore level, a 5-page essay is a pretty hefty assignment, if you are asking for good mechanics and thoughtful content. It’s a good idea to have a very clear understanding of how long a paper needs to be in order to accomplish what you are asking. Then if papers are too short, it is because the assignment has not been fully developed; if it is too long, students may need to work on concision or avoid adding fluff. If you want students to do research, you may have to teach them how to do it, especially if they have not taken English 299 yet. I suggest that you have students use materials from class or on reserve for their evidence, rather than asking them to use the library to find their own sources.
  • Be Clear About Expectations: Give your students details about format, length, due dates, and content. What is second nature for us in our disciplines might be foreign to our students. You are introducing your WL students to the expectations and assumptions of the discipline, so that takes some discussion (APA format? MLA?).
  • Specify What Counts as Evidence: Many students believe that opinion is enough-they haven't had much practice giving evidence and rationale for their beliefs. But each discipline has a different set of criteria for what evidence has worth and what kind of logic is convincing. In English, the syntax of a sentence is evidence. In history, population data counts. In physics, the angle of an incline affects outcome. Think about what sorts of evidence you assume has value for your discipline, and then make those assumptions clear for your students.
  • Model a Good Essay: All the rules and descriptions in the world will not make up for the lack of a good model. Once you have talked through what you are looking for, give your students a sample paper—one from a previous semester, or a solid rough draft from one of the students in class (or write one yourself, as if you were a student). Put the sample on the overhead and take some time to go through it—pointing out format, uses of evidence, development of ideas.
  • Give Time for the Process: Good writing takes time. As writers ourselves, we know we should never turn in a rough draft for any important document. We need time to let the first draft cool off, so we can see the gaps and correct the inconsistencies. If you are going to assign a longer paper, allow two to three weeks for the process. But that means that you will need to intervene (or the students will wait until the night before and dash it off). Give a due date for a rough draft (or other early writing). If you could see that rough draft and respond to it (about issues of content and organization), you will be amazed at how much better the final product is. Some teachers hold conferences to talk about the rough draft, because students usually understand verbal commentary better than written. (I give extra credit points for students who come in for a conference or take their paper to the Writing Center.) It is best if the rough draft dates could be written right into the syllabus, but at least they should be on the assignment itself.

 There is a lot to think about when you assign a longer essay.  But the rewards for the students are great.  They have to think at a high level, for an extended period of time.  For many students, the essay will be what they remember best about your class.

The Discipline-based Writing Assessment project is designed 1) to help departments or programs develop their own values for assessing student writing in the major, 2) to assess the writing of a cohort of students produced during their junior and senior years, and 3) to determine how student writing might be improved.

Faculty participate in this two-year project on a volunteer basis, while the rest of the department supports the project by working with the WAC staff to collect student writing samples. A randomly selected cohort of students are identified during their junior year, and all of their writing from the next two years is collected into portfolios. In the first semester, the writing values of the department or program are developed; in the second and third semesters, writing samples are used to fine-tune the writing values of the department or program and to train the participating faculty in using those values to assess student writing. In the final semester, the portfolios are assessed to determine if students are writing at an acceptable level and to determine how to improve student writing.

Participating faculty receive a stipend of $300 per semester and meet approximately five times each semester.

Initiated in 2006, the program has worked with the following departments or programs:

Family and Consumer Sciences
Construction Management
Engineering Technology

In fall 2014, the School of Nursing and the Teaching and Leadership department will begin their two-year writing assessment project.

Pittsburg State University’s Discipline-based Writing Assessment project is based on the model developed by Dr. Mark Waldo at the University of Nevada, Reno.

WL Statement of Intent Examples

Automotive Technology Electronic Lab

AT-216 is a writing to learn course.  Writing assignments will be incorporated to add to the learning experience of the student.  Writings will include, test and quiz short answer and essay questions, lab activity sheets and six, two page, electrical circuit diagnostic analysis reports.  Students must complete at least five of the six diagnostic analysis report (DAR) writing assignments to pass the course.


Explorations in Education                

  1. As future educators it is vital to demonstrate strong writing skills.  In this course you will have several formal and informal writing experiences. 
  2. As future educators reflection is a key aspect to growing as a professional.  In this course you will have several writing experiences that specifically ask you to reflect on the content covered in the course and make connections to the field.
  3. This course is designated as at Writing to Learn Course and students will earn an “F” in the course if the writing components are not met with a minimum passing grade of 80%.  If you do not earn an 80% or better on formal writing assignments, you cannot pass the course.
  4. You will receive feedback on your writing through CANVAS rubric and teacher comments.
  5. When using sources in your writing you will give credit for the words or ideas of others by documenting your sources using the MLA style of documentation.
  6. In this course you will write a minimum of 15 pages of formal writing.  See DUE DATES FOR WRITING ASSIGNMENTS at the end of the course syllabus.  This includes due dates and feedback from instructor dates.


World Regional Geography

The ancient Greek geographer Eratosthenes (circa 270 BC) is credited for coining the word geography, and during his time it meant literally “writing about the earth”.  Since this time writing has always played an important factor in geography but it has also evolved beyond earth description.  I intend to use writing as a way to help you, the student, learn to look critically at many aspects in geography.


Music Appreciation

Because this is a Writing to Learn course, you will frequently be writing in order to (1) expand your appreciation of classical music, and (2) improve your critical thinking skills. You will be expected to engage in a wide variety of writing activities including informal response papers, in-class short writes. I am confident that your exploration of classical music will uncover a treasure of profitable subject matter.


Organic Lab

This is a writing to learn class and, therefore, you must pass the writing component in order to pass the course. In this course, you will write and submit three formal lab reports with each report being a minimum of 5 pages. Each report is due one week after the lab. You will be provided with a document addressing the format of these reports, a sample report, and grading criteria during recitation prior to the first report. This format is designed to allow you to present your data and discuss your findings and assess their validity. This allows you not only to learn technical writing as it is presented in major peer reviewed journals but also allows you to develop critical scientific thinking.



 WL Philosophy of Writing Examples

Automotive Technology

I believe writing is an essential life-skill.  Writing will help you not only to learn the course material, but will help improve your ability to organize your thoughts and improve your critical thinking skills needed to diagnose modern vehicles.  Success in your future career will hinge on how well you use your acquired knowledge and critical thinking skills to solve problems.  Writing skills will also be necessary to communicate your ideas and recommendations to others.  Developing effective writing skills requires practice, which will be incorporated into the lessons and activities of this course.

World Regional Geography


Using writing to learn geography forces you to develop, organize, expand and strengthen your own ideas as well as your writing skills.  Writing is an essential life-skill.  Success in many aspects in your life will be achieved by improving your critical thinking proficiency.  And like all life skills you become better as you practice!


Music Appreciation

Unlike hair color and blood type, writing is a learned activity. Therefore, we improve our writing skills through diligent, thoughtful practice. Writing also more fully enables us to comprehend the complexities of a specific content area, such as music of Western culture (Classical). Furthermore, writing develops thinking skills. The philosophy behind the writing assignments for this class is that they will help you gain a greater appreciation for classical music. In addition, you will develop the ability to ponder and articulate your complex thoughts on the subject.


The instructors retain the right to change the syllabus at any time.