Teaching WRIT 250


Course Design

Writing 250 is designed to continue the learning trajectory students begin in Writing 100/101 and Writing 102. The overall goal of this course is to strengthen the writing and research skills introduced in first-year composition classes so that students can conduct well-organized and -designed research in their major. Writing 250 assignments emphasize documenting sources, maintaining an online portfolio, and analyzing real research results. Students also create a digital presentation in order to gain experience using digital composing tools for writing and presentation.


Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams. (2008). The Craft of Research. 3rd Edition. Chicago: UChicago Press

Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. (2011). A Writer’s Reference with Writing in the Disciplines. 7th edition  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s (optional)

Assignment Sequence

Beginning in Spring 2014, all sections of Writing 250 were standardized to include the following assignments: 1) exploratory essay; 2) annotated bibliography; 3) literature review; 4) prospectus; 5) multimodal presentation, and 6) eportfolio final reflection/analysis essay. Classwork, homework, and process writing assignments are distributed through the ePortfolio in a “Research Toolbox” section.

Major Projects

Students compose six major projects. Assignments 2 through 5 comprise a large-scale research project. Students will be working with the same topic for the majority of the semester. A brief overview of each project, with a description of the areas students usually struggle with, is provided below. (Click the arrow next to the project title to expand).

Exploratory Essay

The Exploratory Essay is designed to introduce students to writing in the disciplines and to finding/using Library resources related to their major. This narrative essay requires students to find and compare academic and non-academic sources on the same topic. There are three variations of the assignment that instructors can choose from. The final product takes the form of a process narrative in which students trace their steps in finding and comparing sources. Usually, the exploratory essay ends up generating a topic idea that students will want to pursue for the subsequent assignments.

Areas to highlight: Students often struggle with understanding the difference between academic journals themselves and the articles within them. This can be particularly difficult in online sections of the class. It is also important to walk students through Library database searches (or request a librarian demonstration), as students sometimes assume that any source that comes from a library search is peer-reviewed. Also, sometimes students make this first assignment more complicated than it needs to be: it’s ultimately a process narrative, and instructors should emphasize that it’s a relatively low-stakes entry-point into researched writing in the disciplines.

Annotated Bibliography

The second major assignment is an annotated bibliography based on secondary research for the research project students have identified. Students will articulate a topic and rationale in a topic proposal ePortfolio/Research Toolbox assignment around the same time as they are working on the annotated bibliography. For the annotated bibliography, students select 8 to 10 academic or professional research sources and write summaries and evaluations of each source. Students also write an introduction to the bibliography, in which they identify trends or concepts that connect the sources to one another.

Areas to highlight: Students often struggle with selecting good sources, even though they have already had experience with the process with the exploratory essay. Some of the same issues are prevalent, including the use of popular/non-academic sources, as well as sources published in academic journals that aren’t necessarily appropriate for a literature review (opinion pieces, book reviews, etc). Students also struggle with meaningful, detailed summary and specific evaluation of the sources, and sometimes tend to review the sources in very broad terms.

Literature Review

The literature review is a synthesis of secondary research on a student’s topic. Students choose at least five of their secondary sources from the annotated bibliography to include in a literature review that describes the “state of research” in their major on their chosen topic. Emphasis is placed on identifying the gap in existing research, into which the student’s proposed research project will eventually fit.

Areas to highlight: Students struggle with synthesis of sources and identifying gaps in research. Also, sometimes students have trouble seeing “the big picture” of research, and instead more through their sources in isolation. It’s important to emphasize the balance between direct quotation, paraphrase, and original synthesis, as sometimes students rely too heavily on direct quotation.

Prospectus/Research Study Design

The Prospectus is the culmination of the research project students have worked on for the entire semester. The prospectus serves as a formal proposal for an original primary research project in the student’s major, based on the research question identified earlier in the semester. In the prospectus, the students combine a condensation of the literature review with a discussion of the results of their small-scale primary research project (mini-pilot or in-class survey), and outline an original study that they have designed to answer their research question.

Areas to highlight: It helps to describe the prospectus as a sales pitch. Students should think of it as an opportunity to “sell” their proposed research project to a group of skeptical colleagues. Ultimately, they have to prove that they have credibility as researchers in their field and that their project is valid enough to stand on its own. The effectiveness of this approach depends largely on how well students can show how their original student fits into the discourse community established in their review of literature.

Multimodal Presentation

Students work on the multimodal presentation concurrently with the prospectus. The presentation is the student’s opportunity to “sell” the research project proposed in the prospectus. Students are required to use different modes of expression in assembling the presentation, including video, audio, and handouts. In a face-to-face class, presentations usually take place during the last week of the semester. In an online class, students create recorded versions of their presentation and share on a discussion board. In the Spring Semester, instructors have the option of requiring participation in the Celebration of Student Writing in lieu of the in-class presentation.

Areas to Highlight: Students often don’t recognize that a change in mode or medium requires a change in technique, so students need help in understanding how electronic, visual, or spoken text is different from print text and, thus, how to think about audience. Students may also need help with unfamiliar technology. Students also struggle with making their presentation persuasive (selling their proposed research) instead of informative (reviewing existing research).

ePortfolio/Research Toolbox Reflection

The final ePortfolio/Research Toolbox reflection asks students to look back on the writing and research they have compiled throughout the semester, and identify a course outcome in which they believe they have shown as much growth. Students must also compare the artifact(s) they use to identify the outcome to one of their scholarly sources in order to show how their writing and research is similar to (or differs from) scholarly writing that is published in their field.

Areas to highlight: Students are generally unfamiliar with self-reflection and metacognition and need many opportunities throughout the semester to practice. Some students struggle to limit the discussion in the ePortfolio reflections to one outcome and one project. Many will need help with being more specific about their learning. Students should demonstrate their progress, or lack thereof, through examples and by showing, not telling.

Research Toolbox/ePortfolio

Most Writing 250 teachers agree that regular in-class writing, group work, and emphasis on process help students succeed in the course. The committee has developed numerous activities and smaller assignments, called the Research Toolbox, which correspond to the major writing assignments for the course. These are low-stakes classwork and homework assignments that instructors can feel free to modify or rework to suit the needs of their own classes.


Rubrics for each project are available on the DWR Document Library. Sharing the rubric with students at the beginning of each unit, and using the rubric to determine the project’s final grade, helps students understand the expectations for each project and the reasons for the final grade. Using the rubric to determine grades also provides consistency across sections of DWR courses. Projects should be graded and returned within one week of submission.