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First-Year Writing

Writing Skills and Knowledge for Today

The Department of Writing and Rhetoric offers first-year writing classes that focus on helping students to develop the rhetorical skills, processes, and information literacies necessary for writing and composing in the 21st century. Our classes focus on rhetoric, academic writing, community and civic engagement, digital media composition, collaborative writing, and revision.

A Program of Excellence

In 2012, the first-year writing program at Oakland University was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the national organization for college writing programs.

The Writing Foundations Requirement

To fulfill Oakland University’s general education writing foundations requirement, students must complete WRT 1060 or its equivalent with a C or higher. Most students will complete the first year experience by taking Composition I (WRT 1050) and Composition II (WRT 1060). Some students may be required to take Basic Writing (WRT 1020), and some students may be encouraged to take WRT 1000 (Supervised Study) based on early writing samples in their classes.

For more information on WRT 1060, 1050, 1020, 1000, and other Writing and Rhetoric courses, please refer to course information below. 

First-Year Writing Courses

All students at Oakland University must take WRT 1060 (Composition II) to fulfill the general education Writing Foundations requirement, or else demonstrate that they can test out of WRT 1060 with an approved test score or transfer credit. However, most students benefit from starting in WRT 1020 (Basic Writing) or WRT 1050 (Composition I) to gain additional writing skills and practice before moving on to WRT 1060. 

WRT 1020: Basic Writing

Students will work with both a first-year writing instructor and an embedded writing specialist, an advanced undergraduate student who has fulfilled the Writing Foundations requirement, to develop their writing skills, including idea generation and invention, organizational strategies, and conventional usage in expository prose. 

WRT 1020 Course Objective: Students in WRT 1020 course will learn to:

  • Approach writing as a multi-step, recursive process that requires feedback
  • Compose their texts to address the rhetorical situation
  • Demonstrate the ability to synthesize information/ideas in and between various texts--written, spoken, visual
  • Reflect on their own writing processes and reflect on their learning
  • Adapt their prior knowledge and learning strategies to a variety of new writing and reading situations in college and beyond
  • Develop the habits of mind of effective college writers and readers

Typical assignments in this class include:

  • A response journal
  • Learning narrative paper
  • Guide to student services research, paper, and collaborative presentation
  • A portfolio with a reflective introduction and revised paper
  • Optional research-assisted placement essay to advance to WRT 1060

This class offers the most support and will move at the easiest pace. If you regularly struggle in classes with a lot of writing and you have very little confidence in your writing abilities, this course can help you develop the habits and skills necessary to succeed in college-level writing. 

Students are introduced to the rhetorical and stylistic demands of college writing through a focus on experiential, analytical, and expressive writing. Students in Composition I learn to generate, organize, and develop their ideas and to make choices as writers that are appropriate to the rhetorical situation. Most students in the first-year writing program start with WRT 1050 before moving on to WRT 1060. 

WRT 1050 Course Objective: Students in WRT 1050 will learn to:

  • Analyze rhetorical situations (writer, text, context, purpose, audience) in a variety of genres and media.
  • Define and enact appropriate rhetorical strategies, including kairos, ethos, logos, pathos, to communicate ideas in a variety of genres.
  • Apply rhetorical knowledge to gain a better understanding of a professional discourse community.
  • Develop strategies for reading rhetorically, evaluating, and responding to a variety of texts, including visual, electronic, written, and verbal texts.
  • Reflect on their own writing processes, evaluate their own learning, transfer and adapt their learning to new settings, and develop the habits of mind of effective college writers.
  • Employ writing as a process of making meaning, requiring multiple drafts and revision.
  • Demonstrate syntactic fluency and control of language conventions, including awareness of sentence and paragraph structure.
  • Exhibit accurate use of and rhetorical purpose for documentation systems, generally MLA.

Typical assignments in this class include:

  • A rhetorical analysis, in which students analyze the rhetorical situation and strategies used by an author in a particular text to persuade and inform an audience. 
  • A writing-in-your-field essay, in which you conduct both primary and secondary research about the kinds of writing you can expect to do in your major and/or career path.
  • A project that requires you to put the knowledge of rhetoric you've gained throughout the semester to use in some way and enact what you've learned through writing
  • At least one multimodal assignment that includes written words but also other modes of communication such as visuals and sound to communicate and persuade

This course will have a moderate pace and will be best suited for students who are relatively well prepared for college-level writing but who may benefit from some additional practice and instruction in writing before moving on to the rigorous challenges of research writing in WRT 1060. Most students initially place into WRT 1050 to help prepare them for college-level writing.

WRT 1060: Composition II (Writing Foundations)

Students are exposed to the process of writing in increasingly complex rhetorical situations that will help college writers to focus on developing analytic thinking and problem-solving strategies in writing. Students in Composition II classes are also introduced to the methods of academic research including evaluation and documentation of sources and are expected to create at least one research paper. The successful completion of WRT 1060 (Composition II) with a C or higher satisfies the university general education requirement in the writing knowledge foundation area. 

WRT 1060 Course Objective: Students in this course will learn:

  • Primary research methods (quantitative and qualitative) appropriate for academic scholarship
  • Secondary research strategies for locating and evaluating sources both through library databases and through external online databases appropriate for academic scholarship
  • Ethical considerations in academic scholarship, including responsibility to human subjects, non-biased use of language, fair and accurate use of sources, appropriate documentation, and larger rhetorical purposes of civic engagement
  • Stylistic conventions for integrating secondary and primary research to arrive at new knowledge in academic disciplines, including familiarity with APA format

Typical assignments in this class include:

  • A major research paper for an academic audience including both secondary and primary research methods
  • A research project for civic purposes that may recast earlier research in the course or require additional new research
  • A research presentation or other multimodal project that presents research findings to classmates and possibly other audiences using words, images, and sound.

This class will move at the fastest pace and have the most demanding schedule and material. If you've typically excelled in English classes and other courses with extensive writing projects, you might feel confident registering for WRT 1060. Please note that all students who self-select WRT 1060 through their questionnaire results who do not have a high school GPA of 3.75 or higher will be required to take a placement essay test that will be read by faculty in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric to help ensure that you can be successful in WRT 1060. 

Supplemental Courses

WRT 1000: Supervised Study

For students who want additional help with their writing in any of our introductory writing courses or in any of the university's writing-intensive courses. This 1-2 credit course provides students with tutorial instruction from a WRT faculty member based on the areas that the student wishes to work on. Students who take WRT 1000 value this course because of the one-on-one time the course provides and the assistance the course instructors offer for writing assignments in a variety of classes. For example, a WRT 1000 student from fall 2011 praised his course instructor because she "thoroughly walked through every assignment with me," and another applauded the instructor's ability to teach "in different styles until we found the one best fit for my learning."

WRT 1040: Critical Thinking and Reading

Students learn to analyze main ideas and organizational patterns used in academic texts, synthesize different passages for their own purposes, and evaluate written and digital materials, focusing on non-fiction prose. Emphasis on developing flexible reading skills for personal and professional use.

If your adviser instructed you to take the Writing Placement Questionnaire (WPQ) for placement in a first-year writing course, read about the program's courses and start the questionnaire here.

What is Directed Self-Placement? What is OU’s Modified Directed Self-Placement System?

Directed self-placement means that students receive guidance about the different courses in a program and are given a survey or other means to assess their own writing attitudes and abilities (that’s the “directed” part), and then they place themselves in the course they think is most appropriate for them (that’s the “self-placement” part). Directed self-placement is a well-respected, thoroughly researched placement method used at many universities throughout the United States.

OU’s first-year writing program uses a modified version of directed self-placement for students with or without test scores. You as the student are given guidance about our courses, and then you take a questionnaire that allows you to assess your own abilities and attitudes about writing, based on your previous experiences with writing for school. The results of the questionnaire will then create a placement for you and let you know what class you can register for. If you believe that the placement that is suggested for you will be too difficult, you can choose to go down one level of classes in the program (for instance, from WRT 1060 to 1050, or from WRT 1050 to WRT 1020). However, you cannot choose to place higher than the results of your questionnaire suggest because we believe that placement might be too challenging for you given your responses, and we want to try to maximize your chance of moving through the program successfully.

We chose this modified directed-self placement process to allow students to learn about our courses and have some input about where they believe they best belong. There are many benefits to this process, including:

  • Greater agency for students who are empowered to have some input in their placement
  • More knowledge for students about first-year writing courses before taking the courses because students learn something about the program and the individual classes before enrolling
  • Improved morale among students once they are taking the first-year writing classes, leading to a better classroom experience for both students and instructors

Steps for your First-Year Writing Directed Self-Placement

These are the steps you will take in the directed self-placement process:

  1. Read information about first-year writing placement at OU and information about the three main courses in the first-year writing program. 
  2. Complete a writing placement questionnaire to take inventory of your prior experiences with and attitudes about writing for school. Based on your responses, you will be given an automatically generated placement for either WRT 1020 (Basic Writing), WRT 1050 (Composition I), or WRT 1060 (Composition II).
  3. Meet with your adviser during your scheduled orientation to discuss your directed self- placement questionnaire results and options, as well as any questions you may have:

    WRT 1060 Placement: If your writing placement questionnaire score indicates that you would place yourself in WRT 1060, you will need a high school GPA of 3.75 to be able to register for WRT 1060. If your GPA is lower than 3.75 but you still believe you can be successful in WRT 1060, you can take the first-year writing optional placement essay exam. The placement essay will be read by faculty in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric who regularly teach WRT 1020, 1050, and 1060 and who are knowledgeable about the abilities needed to succeed in each course. These instructors will determine if you are most likely to be successful in WRT 1060 or if you might benefit from taking WRT 1050 first.

    If your writing placement questionnaire suggests WRT 1060 but you believe that you would be better placed in WRT 1050 to get additional practice with writing before moving on to WRT 1060, talk to your adviser about registering for WRT 1050 instead. 

    WRT 1050 Placement: If your writing placement questionnaire score indicates that you would place yourself in WRT 1050, you can register for WRT 1050. Most students in the first-year writing program start in WRT 1050 before moving on to WRT 1060. This is the most common placement for students. 

    If your writing placement questionnaire suggests WRT 1050 but you believe that you would be better placed in WRT 1020 to get additional practice with writing before moving on to WRT 1050, talk to your adviser about registering for WRT 1020 instead. 

    WRT 1020 Placement: If your writing placement questionnaire score indicates that you would place yourself in WRT 1020, then you must register for WRT 1020. This course will help prepare you for success in the first-year writing program.

  4. Register for the appropriate first-year writing course: WRT 1020 (Basic Writing), WRT 1050 (Composition I), or WRT1060 (Composition II). 
  5. In addition, you might also decide to register for WRT 1000 or WRT 1040 along with your first-year writing course. WRT 1000 is a one-credit optional course that will allow you to work one-on-one with an instructor from the Department of Writing and Rhetoric for about one hour each week on your writing for your first-year writing course, and any other writing you are doing for school during the semester you take WRT 1000. If you are feeling unsure about your placement, or you just know that you will benefit from extra support, please talk to your advisor about whether WRT 1000 is right for you. WRT 1040 is a course designed to help you with reading. If in your high school classes you struggled with writing in response to reading, then WRT 1040 might help you with your first-year writing courses. (Please note that WRT 1040 is not offered every semester.)

Optional Placement Essay Exam for WRT 1060

If your writing placement questionnaire gave you a course recommendation of WRT 1060 but you do not have a high school GPA of 3.75 or above, you can take a placement essay exam to demonstrate your preparation for WRT 1060. The placement essay will be read by faculty in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric who regularly teach WRT 1020, 1050, and 1060 and who are knowledgeable about the abilities needed to succeed in each course. The process is described below:

  1. Contact the Department of Writing and Rhetoric administrator, Kerri Hubbard ([email protected]), to sign up for a test date and time. You must have your Oakland University NetID and email address to sign up. (If you do not yet have an Oakland NetID, please set up a student account.

  2. On the day of your scheduled exam, log into the espace placement testing site a few minutes before your exam is scheduled to begin. Read the instructions for the prompt and write your essay according to the instructions provided. You will have one hour to write and submit your essay (unless you make prior arrangements for an accommodation).

  3. A team of two WRT instructors will access your essay on the espace site and read it to determine your placement. They will then notify the department of the final placement decision.

  4. If the final placement decision is 1060, the Department of Writing and Rhetoric will process an override and contact you to register for WRT 1060. If the results of the placement essay do not indicate that you are ready for 1060, you will be contacted and instructed to enroll in WRT 1050. Placement decisions at this point are final and cannot be amended or contested.

Students attempting to place into WRT 1060 through the placement essay process must complete the placement essay at least one day prior to the first day of the semester in which they plan to enroll in WRT 1060. This policy ensures that readers have time to assess the essays and that students who place into WRT 1060 can register and begin class on time.

University and Department Policies

Online Activities Policy

Online course content is an interactive and engaging part of students’ experiences in all of our introductory writing classes. These activities are listed in the course syllabus and calendar. Also, all courses listed as MWF are partially online with some days replaced with interactive assignments and/or activities (preferably graded). Participation in online activities counts as class attendance.

Occasionally, if an emergency arises and a professor has to cancel a class not scheduled as online in the course calendar, an online assignment will be substituted for the class. Such last minute substitutions will be kept to a minimum -- ideally, no more than 2 in a semester for MWF or TR classes; no more than 1 in an evening course.

Online activities include more than just solitary, non-interactive activities such as reading and reviewing course materials or participating in a reading or grammar quiz. Online activities that replace in-class time will include the following elements:

  • Interactions between students and their peers (such as peer review)
  • Interactions between students and their instructor
  • Critical thinking, collaborative challenges, and textual productions that go beyond the simple summary or recitation of information
  • Time on task approximately equal to the amount of time the replaced class would take

Online activities may include engaging in online written discussions, chats, Voicethread conversations, Skype sessions, or Elluminate sessions; discussing a series of prompts using text in conjunction with visual, aural, or video mediums; completing group tasks entirely through online collaboration; completing peer reviews; or using Googledocs, Googlesites, Delicious, Pearltrees, wikis, or other online sites to compose texts or collect resources.

OU Excused Absence Policy and Department Attendance Policy

All WRT classes adhere to the OU Excused Absence Policy for OU events and activities.

For absences not covered by the university policy, students in writing and rhetoric courses are allowed a certain number of absences without penalty: 3 for MWF classes, 2 for TR classes, or 1 for evening classes. This includes absences due to illness, car trouble, or schedule conflict. Participation in online activities counts as class attendance. 

Depending on how instructors calculate grades, for each absence beyond those allowed, the student's final course grade will be lowered by 0.1 points on the 4.0 scale for MWF classes, .15 for TTh classes, and .3 for evening and Saturday classes; or by 2% for MWF classes, 3% for TTh classes, and 6% for evening and Saturday classes. Students who miss more than three combined weeks of class are not eligible to receive a grade above F.

Midterm Progress Reports

Faculty Feedback (Midterm Progress): Students in all 1000-level and 2000-level WRT courses may receive “Faculty Feedback” through SAIL if professors identify areas of concern that could lead to failing the class. Faculty Feedback typically occurs during weeks 2–5 of the semester, but may also be given later in the term, ideally before the official withdrawal date. If Faculty Feedback is given, students will receive an e-mail message through the OU system documenting the issue(s) their instructor identified and suggesting possible resources for help with or study strategies approaches for addressing those issues.


Incompletes can only be given if circumstances beyond the control of the student occur after the official withdrawal date and preclude timely completion of the work for a course. Student and instructor should agree on the terms under which the work will be completed and evaluated.


All WRT classes adhere to the university policy on adds, drops, and withdrawals. It is the student’s responsibility to be aware of the University deadline dates for dropping the course.

Students may add or drop WRT classes using SAIL during open enrollment periods. Students are responsible for knowing registration deadlines and understanding the implications of schedule changes on their financial aid. The department is not responsible for a student's loss of financial aid due to schedule changes

Students may not over-enroll into full sections. Twenty-two students (18 for WRT 102) is the maximum number of students allowed in a section. The Conference on College Composition and Communication recommends, “No more than 20 students should be permitted in any writing class. Ideally, classes should be limited to 15. Remedial or developmental sections should be limited to a maximum of 15 students.”

Students may not add into WRT classes after SAIL registration closes. Because of the length of time that SAIL registration is available to students, instructors are advised not to sign add slips. The first two weeks of class cover important material and often include graded assignments. Enrollment after that cutoff would be unfair both to the student and to the rest of the class.

Students are responsible for dropping classes that they decide not to complete. No-shows will be submitted to the Academic Success Center’s Early Alert program.

Academic Conduct Policy

Cheating on examinations, plagiarism, falsifying reports/records, and unauthorized collaboration, access, or modifying of computer programs are considered serious breaches of academic conduct. The Oakland University policy on academic conduct will be strictly followed with no exceptions. See catalog under Academic Policies and Procedures.

If upon reviewing a student project, an instructor suspects that a student has engaged in plagiarism, the instructor will issue an incomplete on the assignment and forward the matter with a letter of explanation and supporting documentation to the Office of the Dean of Students, in the Oakland Center, Suite 150. The instructor will indicate clearly the passages that are plagiarized and their original source. Once the matter is resolved by the Academic Conduct Committee, the faculty member will issue the appropriate grade on the assignment. If an Incomplete has been issued for the final grade, the instructor will complete a change of grade form as appropriate, and under the reason for change of grade, note, "Final grade due to resolution of academic conduct matter."

Student Grade Appeal Policy

The purpose of this statement is to set forth a procedure that will permit resolution of student grade complaints immediately after they arise and in the spirit of cooperation. All complaints must be initiated within sixty (60) days after the student is aware of the circumstances leading to the complaint.

A student who has a complaint about a class grade or classroom situation involving a Writing and Rhetoric instructor should first discuss the complaint directly with that instructor. Any member of the Department to whom the student makes a complaint must send that student directly to the instructor involved.

If the student and instructor are unable to resolve differences themselves, or if the student finds it impossible to meet with the instructor directly, the student should submit a written complaint to the Chair of the department. The criteria for the grounds of a written complaint shall include evidence of:

  • Systematic and demonstrable unfairness based on ethnicity, race, or gender (complaints of discrimination will be forwarded to the Dean of Students office);
  • Inconsistent application of instructor’s grading policy (i.e. how the final grade is derived);
  • Inconsistent application of standards established by the instructor (i.e. clearly differing evaluation criteria brought into play from student to student in the same assignment); 
  • Inconsistent course procedures relative to those laid out in the syllabus. 

Complaints of grading harshness or professional evaluation by instructors of classroom presentations, projects, or written essays do not constitute sufficient grounds for a complaint unless clear evidence of above criteria is present.

Upon receipt of the written complaint, the Department Chair or the Chair of the Grievance Committee will hold an informal meeting with the student and instructor (individually or together as deemed appropriate) in an effort to reach a mutually agreeable solution to the problem.

If the issue is not resolved through the informal arbitration between the Department Chair or Chair of the Grievance Committee (CGC) and the student/instructor, the CGC and the WRT Chair or designated full-time WRT faculty member will review the complaint to determine whether or not it meets the criteria stated above. If it does not, the WRT Chair will inform the student and the process will conclude.

If it is determined the complaint meets the criteria, the Chair or CGC will form an arbitration panel consisting of three (3) people from the university community including: the CGC, one person chosen by the student, and one person chosen by the instructor.

The arbitration panel will hold a hearing in the presence of both parties. After the meeting, the panel will confer in a closed session to discuss potential remedies, if deemed appropriate. The panel will provide the instructor with recommendations for addressing the complaint or will inform the student that the complaint was without merit. If the Chair deems there are not grounds for the complaint based on the criteria above, the student will be informed and the process will be concluded.

If the student is not satisfied by the arbitration process, they may then contact the office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to advance a grade appeal at the College level.

In the case of grade complaints, the panel can suggest the instructor reevaluate the student’s work (which might result in raising or lowering the grade), but the panel does not have the power to change grades. Although collegial recommendation carries positive weight, ultimately the instructor of record decides the final grade. For other classroom situations, the panel can likewise recommend a resolution, but, ultimately, the instructor of record controls their classroom. The suggestion of the panel shall be the final stage of the departmental action.

Faculty members are also to be guided by the statements on faculty conduct and professionalism contained in the Faculty Agreement. In addition, it should be noted that non-academic concerns, discrimination, and harassment complaints are governed by Oakland University Academic Affairs or the Office of the Dean of Students. 

Writing Foundations Exemption Portfolio

Transfer students who feel they should be exempt from Writing Foundations (WRT 1060) because of prior coursework may submit an exemption portfolio. Please contact Kerri Hubbard at [email protected]  to obtain instructions for submitting a Petition of Exception and for more information.

Department of Writing and Rhetoric

O'Dowd Hall, Room 378
586 Pioneer Drive
Rochester, MI 48309-4482
(location map)
(248) 370-2746
fax: (248) 370-2748