The Writing Requirement

Learning to write well is a developmental process that occurs over time. For this reason, beginning with the class of 2018, all Brown undergraduates, must work on their writing at least twice as described below:

Part I of the Requirement - Semesters 1-4:

All students must complete an approved course at Brown University 
(Note: the internal academic record will list the writing requirement as completed 24-48 hours after a passing grade has been entered)

Transfer students:
Admitted as sophomores Will automatically meet part I if the student took an approved English, Literary Arts, or Comparative Literature course at their prior institution. Sophomore transfers with no such course must take an approved course at Brown, but they have an additional two terms to do so.
Admitted as juniors Exempt 

Part II of the Requirement - Semesters 5-7:

Class of 2017: Students may either take a second writing-designated course in semesters 5- 7 or upload an eligible writing sample that meets specific guidelines into ASK.

All other students: 
Must complete a second approved course in semesters 5-7, unless their concentration allows writing completed in the concentration to satisfy the requirement in lieu of a second writing-designated course. Writing samples will be reviewed and approved by the concentration advisor. 

Writing Sample Criteria for Students in the class of '17

Writing submitted in lieu of an approved course must meet rigorous standards, since the submission will be equivalent to testing out of a requirement. Submissions must be:

  • 20 pages (approximately 7,000 words), if a single academic essay, or if there are multiple academic essays, at least one essay must be 12 pages (approximately 4,200 words);

  • the student's original individual work; group projects are not acceptable; and

  • written in English.

Writing uploaded to ASK must be strong academic analytical essays and must satisfy the following standards.

  • Thesis:  This is the essay’s central claim, a claim that could be contested and hence needs to be explicated and defended by the essay.  It should indicate complexity of thought, and it should define the goals of the writer in this essay.  Traditionally the opening paragraph introduces the thesis in an academic essay, but the thesis can be effectively placed later.

  • Organization: The order in which the essay unfolds its evidence and argument should match the promise of the thesis.  The organization should be logical and coherent and progressive.  The direction of the writing ought to be quite evident and the focus consistent.

  • Sources:  Sources should be purposeful, not evidence simply plugged into the text but analyzed and engaged with in ways that clearly and transparently develop the ideas implicit in the thesis.  Ideas should not be derivative or superficially used; the essay should interpret its sources.   The writer should engage with primary sources where appropriate; the majority of secondary sources should be scholarly and peer-reviewed.

  • Language:  The language of the writing must be appropriate to the subject, its academic discipline, its audience, and its goals.  The language should be clear and precise, illuminating the ideas rather than obscuring them; although clarity and precision seem subjective, the generalist reader should be able to assess readability based on those qualities.  The writing should be fluid; nothing should unnecessarily interrupt the reader; everything should have a sense of moving toward a comprehensible end.

  • Achievement of goals:  By the end of the essay, the reader should be able to determine whether—and how well—the writing fulfills the promises set forth in the thesis.  

If an uploaded submission does not meet the requirements, it will be reviewed by the Writing Requirement Committee or the Director of the Writing Center.  The student will be notified and given instructions on what needs to be done.

 Courses that meet the requirement:

English, Comparative Literature, and Literary Arts courses all meet the writing requirement. Students are encouraged to enroll in English 0900, which focuses on critcal reading and writing, or English 1030a, which focuses on the research essay. Other popular courses focus on journalistic writing (English 1050g) and creative nonfiction (English 0930).

Writing-designated (WRIT) courses:

  • provide students with substantive feedback on each writing assignment (for example, students may draft and revise a written assignment or may simply be able to apply feedback on their writing to later assignments);
  • require at least two written assignments of any length and in any language; and
  • can be in any field or discipline. 

Writing Fellows courses allow students to work on their writing with a Brown undergraduate, called a Writing Fellow, who has been trained in composition and pedagogy.