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Written Communication

This page is intended to support faculty in undertaking annual PLO assessment with a focus on the Written Communication Core Competency. Faculty should freely use and adapt the definitions, criteria, and rubrics as they see fit to meet their program's priorities. 

Overview

Written communication is the development and expression of ideas in writing. It involves learning to work in many genres and styles, appropriately adapting to the conventions of different disciplines and/or professional contexts.

Written communication can also involve working with many different writing technologies, including mixing texts, data, and images with narrative. Written communication abilities develop through iterative practice with feedback across the curriculum and co-curriculum. (Adapted from AAC&U definition)

Style and Genre

While the main goal of written communication is to inform the audience or persuade them to a particular point of view, what constitutes competent writing is often heavily dependent on the disciplinary context as well as the requirements of a specific assignment.  

The ability to write competently in different genres requires more than solid writing mechanics and organization. To produce effective communications, competent writers must develop both 

  • the ability to write, and
  • the ability to critically analyze texts for the writing conventions particular to a given genre.

The ability to discern and then adopt the writing conventions of an unfamiliar genre is critical to academic success. Over the course of their academic careers, students will be asked to engage in diverse types of writing in their major, in general education courses, and in co-curricular contexts. Examples include essays, research papers, response papers, literature reviews, lab reports, senior theses, short answer essays, reflective essays, personal statements, etc.  Each reflects a specific set of expectations regarding what will be communicated and how. 

The ability to identify and adapt to different genres of writing is also critical to post-graduate success. There UC Merced graduates will need to master quickly new forms of professional writing. 

Skills of Competent Writing

Even though the style and conventions of writing assignments differ across the disciplines, a review of written communication rubrics from multiple fields identifies several core elements of competent writing. They include:

  • An easily identifiable thesis/main argument
  • Sustained support of the thesis/main argument throughout the assignment
  • Appropriate use of evidence to support the thesis/main argument
  • Logical organization
  • Relevance
  • Clarity of ideas
  • Depth of analysis
  • Awareness of the appropriate audience
  • Appropriate integration of diagrams, tables, and graphs (images)

Revision is also a necessary component of producing quality writing. By the time students graduate, they should have the ability to independently revise and edit their own work, as well as be able to incorporate feedback from their instructors or peers. 

Application

Written assignments can be incorporated into courses in diverse ways. These assignments can often be the vehicle for integrating the assessment of other core competencies, such as critical thinking in the form of a reflective essay, information literacy in the form of a research paper, or quantitative reasoning in the data analysis section of a lab report. The University of Minnesota’s Center for Writing offers an array of assignments across many disciplines, as well as rubrics, for faculty to consider.

The online resource - Feedback and Revision: The Key Components of a Powerful Writing Pedagogy  - provides a brief and incredibly helpful introduction to teaching writing. 

Sample Rubrics

Resources

The Writing Matters series from the University of Hawaii at Manoa Writing Program

Mathematical Communication resources from the Mathematical Association of America

Discipline-Specifics Resources at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Writing

Hartwick College’s Writing Checklist