Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

How do Carnegie Mellon’s first-year writing courses prepare students
for academic writing? 

Currently the Department of English at Carnegie Mellon has two courses that introduce students to writing at the college level. As one might expect, these courses cannot provide students instruction and practice in all genres of writing, so it is imperative that we understand what we are building on before we choose to incorporate writing into our own courses.

The first course, Interpretation and Argument (76-101), introduces students to a process for writing an argument from sources. The course assumes that reading and writing are inseparable practices for responsible, academic authoring. Students are exposed to a variety of different texts, including academic fiction and non-fiction, so that they can explore and critically evaluate a single issue from multiple perspectives. They are taught to summarize and analyze arguments within an issue so that they may create an argument of their own. Students learn to be reflective and strategic with their composing processes as they plan, write, and revise their own texts. In both analyzing and creating written arguments, students practice applying a standard template that includes the thesis, relevant support/evidence, and underlying assumptions. In this course, however, the language used for these three components is “claims, grounds, and warrants”. Students also practice analyzing and constructing written arguments by identifying the issues (i.e., topics), problem, and solution. Ultimately, the course provides opportunities for students to develop critical thinking skills and strategic methods for analyzing and producing texts within the context of an academic community.

For those students who are non-native speakers of English, the department offers Reading and Writing in a Multicultural Setting (76-100).  Students who have identified themselves as those who speak English as a second or third language, rather than as their primary language or the language spoken at home, are eligible to take this class. Students qualify to take this course through a placement test that is administered through the university prior to the fall semester. The course, designed as a prerequisite for 76-101 (which is still required), stresses reading in English for comprehension and the application of key concepts for writing summaries and short position papers. Students are introduced to readers' expectations for western rhetorical style at the sentence, paragraph, and whole text levels. Norms for academic English are explicitly taught within the contexts of these assignments, as well as academic standards for citing sources.