Academic and Professional Writing: Undergraduates

Academic & Professional Writing:

Academic and Professional Writing, a.k.a. "The Little Red Schoolhouse"or "LRS" (English 13000) is an advanced class for third- and fourth-year undergraduates who are taking courses in their majors or concentrations. LRS helps writers communicate complex and difficult material clearly to a wide variety of expert and non-expert readers. It is designed to prepare you for the demands of academic writing at the level of the B.A. paper and beyond, and for writing in the professions you will enter after graduation. This year, LRS will be offered for undergraduates in Winter, Spring, and Summer quarters.

If you wish to register for LRS this quarter, please see the directions on the LRS info page. If you are currently taking LRS, you may download assignments and handouts and see course announcements on Chalk. For detailed information about the course, read on.

Course description and goals

You've worked hard on a research paper for four weeks. You've moved in to Regenstein, forgotten your social life, and devoted yourself to an obsessive pursuit of knowledge that would make a Supreme Court judge look frivolous and unfocused. Yet when the paper comes back -- bad news. The grade isn't all you would like it to be, but more importantly, it's clear from the professor's comments that your point just did not come across.

What happened? What happened is something that happens to many writers at many different levels, but that happens most often to writers who have complex, difficult, and interesting material to communicate: readers react in ways we don't anticipate. They focus on ideas that we meant to be tangential, they fail to follow the argument at its key points, and they seem to miss completely the ideas that we found to be fascinating and believed to be the focus of our work. Are our readers stupid? It's always a possibility, of course, but it's not a safe (or diplomatic) assumption to make about professional and academic readers. What you can safely assume, however, is that good ideas can be obscured by bad prose, and that a productive response to miscommunication is to learn ways to communicate more effectively.

The Little Red Schoolhouse is a course designed to help you do just that. We approach good writing not as a sterile grammatical exercise or as a collection of arbitrary rules, but as a study of readers. Readers predictably find certain sentence structures, paragraph structures, and text structures to be more clear than others. We teach what these structures are and how to use them; and we also teach you how to identify and revise parts of your work where you can safely predict that readers will have trouble or lose track of your main idea.

LRS structure, workload, and grading policy

The course's intensive structure and workload have been designed to help writers learn to focus on readers. As a student in LRS, you will spend one of the class's two weekly meetings in a lecture focused on a principle of clear writing. You will then practice these principles in two ways. First, you will write one paper a week for ten weeks. Second, you will meet with six or seven other students in a seminar once a week to read and discuss each other's work. These seminars, which are led by a Writing Program Lector, will allow you to hear how at least six real-world readers respond to your work. They will also provide you with an opportunity to prepare a written critique of one other student's paper each week. These critiques are an integral part of the course, because they allow you to practice communicating about writing in a way that goes beyond reporting subjective responses (e.g., "I liked it," "It stunk") to offer genuine constructive criticism and concrete suggestions for improvement.

Grades in the course are based on the papers students have written, on the paper critiques they produce, and on their participation in seminar discussions. You may take the course pass/no pass if you inform your Lector about it early in the quarter; your Lector will inform you what the mandatory pass/no pass date is for each quarter. If you wish to take the course pass/no pass, we strongly caution you to ask your advisor whether this grade will affect your ability to graduate or your student loan status.

To receive credit for the course, undergraduates taking the course for a "pass" must complete all eight LRS assignments satisfactorily. Unlike graduate students, undergraduate students are not allowed to turn in sections of current work for the assignments. Undergraduates can, however, draw on the same subject matter that they're using in current work for another class or project. Revised and edited versions of current work -- adapted, that is, to suit the needs of a particular reader -- can be used to fulfill some of the LRS assignments. All such assignments must have the permission of the student's Lector.

Common Questions about LRS

Can the course benefit English as a Second Language students? Yes, it can. Many ESL students have taken LRS at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. While LRS does not address ESL concerns directly, our students report that it has been immensely helpful both for their writing in English and (in many cases) their writing in their native language. For courses explicitly oriented toward ESL matters and the conventions and structures of North American academic writing, you may visit The English Language Institute.

What kinds of papers do LRS students write? Most papers are between three and four pages long; the final paper of the quarter is around seven to ten pages. Our assignments specify two things: the nature of your audience (are they experts in the subject? beginners? are they deeply interested? completely apathetic?) and the nature of your rhetorical task (are you trying to persuade readers? simply present information?) The paper's subject matter, however, is up to you: you must choose a serious subject of some kind, and we strongly encourage you to write about your major field. Thus economics majors write about economics, English majors write about English, biology majors write about biology, and so on.