First-Year Focus

To demonstrate their proficiency in writing, Northwestern students must satisfy the writing requirements established by their individual schools.

In WCAS, students must show that they can write satisfactorily in two courses at Northwestern, typically during their two first-year seminars. There are two exceptions, for special program students. HPME and MMSS students, who are required to take only one first-year seminar, have only a one-course writing requirement. Although first-year seminars are taught by faculty from every discipline in WCAS, all of these seminars include writing instruction, and, as part of their teaching responsibilities, first-year seminar instructors are asked to evaluate the writing of their students. These evaluations reflect the instructors' assessments of students' writing skills only and do not necessarily correspond to the grades students earn in the seminar courses. These assessments are then forwarded to the Writing Program. A Writing Program adviser will work with any student who has not written satisfactorily in his or her courses to develop an alternate approach to fulfilling this requirement, which may include enrollment in an expository writing course such as English 105 or English 205.

In McCormick, all students are expected to take Design 106, Design Thinking and Communication, in their first or second year. This two-quarter course is taught concurrently as English 106, Writing in Special Contexts, and fulfills the writing requirement for all engineering students.

Students in other schools frequently take English 105, Expository Writing, English 205, Intermediate Composition, or English 105-6 (first-year WCAS seminars that have openings) to fulfill their writing requirements; most do so in their first or second year.

English 105, 205, and 305 are all designed to help individual writers gain more control over the writing process and improve largely at their own pace. All of these core WP courses emphasize analysis, argument, and style.

  • English 105, Expository Writing, is a good course for any writer who wants to polish his or her basic skills and practice writing in a supportive, less pressure-packed environment. It is particularly appropriate for first and second year students who, although they may be good writers, have had little experience with college writing or complicated resources, like those in the University Library.
  • English 205, Intermediate Composition, is a cornerstone course in the Writing Program. Appropriate for students in any major or year, this popular course is generally taken by students who have had some experience with writing and with college courses. Like English 105, English 205 is a workshop in which students share drafts of works in progress. Some English 205s have a special focus or theme.
  • English 305, Advanced Composition, is, as its name suggests, a course for juniors or seniors with previous writing experience at the university level. First-year students are advised to wait to take this course, even if they consider themselves very accomplished writers. Note: English 305 is not designed primarily for English or Writing majors; upperclass students from every major and school are welcome and likely to find this course collegial and beneficial, particularly if they will be writing an honors thesis or considering graduate or professional study.

Some Writing Program courses, like first-year seminars, have a special focus, which is more "creative," such as autobiography or creative non-fiction. However, students interested in fiction and poetry should contact the English Department. They should particularly investigate that department's Major in Writing.

Students can take each writing course twice for credit, as long as they take it with a different instructor (and can therefore demonstrate that the course content is different). This flexibility in University requirements ensures that students who desire ample help with their writing will be able to receive it. Beginning writers should also consult our Advice for Beginning Writers on this site as well as our FAQs.