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Penn's Critical Writing Seminar has been significantly revamped and now includes new literature review, public editorial and job letter components. | Courtesy of Pixabay/Creative Commons

Penn’s Critical Writing Seminar — whether you love it, hate it or want to forget about it — just got a facelift.

The pacing and sequence of assignments in the course have significantly changed. Three of the old assignments have been replaced with a new literature review, a public editorial and a job letter. Plus, the “timed essays” have been renamed “on-demand writing.” These new assignments carry an emphasis on “authentic genre” — different forms of writing from a typical school paper, which students will actually use after they graduate.

The audience for the typical college paper, often a course instructor, “isn’t really reading to learn from you or be persuaded by you,” Critical Writing Program Director Valerie Ross said. But in a public editorial, for example, the larger audience is reading to get something from it. All three new assignments have a stronger sense of purpose associated with them than their older counterparts, Ross said.

There is also an increased focus on content in the new seminar, which comes across in the extra time allotted for students to dive more deeply into the assigned reading. Students now start off outlining their readings, instead of having a writing assignment at the same time.

The emphasis on the assigned content “has intensified [the] topic, and there is much more discussion of topic,” Ross said. She also said these changes would lessen the amount of outlining students would be required to do throughout the rest of the course.

College senior Susan Hao chose to do the pilot version of the new seminar taught by Ross last summer because the content had to do with her double major in cognitive science and computer science. She said the book they read, “Cognitive Variations” by Geoffrey Lloyd, was still very challenging but that the extra effort helped her get more out of the class.

“Outlining and finding the main point of the argument, and the points that support the argument in writing seminar helped me figure out a better way to approach my reading comprehension,” Hao said.

It also helped her with dense, difficult passages on the GRE exam when she took it at the end of the summer. This is one of the reasons why Hao is happy that she took the pilot course when she did.

“As a freshman, you mostly try to do well in your classes to get a good grade, but now as a senior I wanted to get something out of it,” she said. “I felt like I learned more from applying what I learned from writing seminar to outside experiences.”

Engineering junior Rhudii Quaye also took the pilot course over the summer.

“I didn’t want the stress of taking a class like the writing seminar during the semester,” Quaye said, who keeps himself busy with a double major in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. Even though writing is far from his subject of choice, he said he enjoyed the class.

“I kind of liked it,” he said. “I didn’t consider myself a good writer, but I’m starting to think otherwise.”

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