Formal Writing and Informal Writing

A Guide to the Process Approach to Writing

1. Prewriting exercises of various kinds are used to get students ready for the assignment. Sometimes the first step is short in-class impromptu writing.

In the WI courses, this impromptu writing can take a variety of forms and might be completed outside of class time. The focus is on prewriting that leads to critical thinking about the assignment before a more formal draft is begun.

2. An assignment is made in detail, with a written assignment sheet. For example on the assignment sheet, students are told (in writing) that they must, "without fail," arrive in class on the scheduled read-in day with four copies of their paper. The product is deliberately not called a draft; it should be the students’ best attempt at that assignment. Try to avoid the word "draft," which students often take to mean "whatever you can throw together."

3. Read-ins use about one class hour. Students are put in groups of three, and the teacher explains that the aim is simple: They should hear and discuss one another’s papers. But negative criticism is not allowed – nor is attention to correctness, unless the writer has a specific question and wants help.

The writer passes a copy of the paper to each of the two  classmates and reads the paper aloud, while the others follow along and make any notes they see fit on their copy of the paper. They may pause to discuss content after each paragraph or discuss only after the whole paper is read.

The aim is sharing work in progress, not critique. It is always interesting for the instructor to see a set of papers with differing approaches to an assignment, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but diverse in their approachesand insights. Students get ideas from one another; they almost always get positive feedback on their own efforts.

The time devoted to this exercise can readily be shortened and there are ways, somewhat less attention grabbing, to get a similar effect outside of the class time. Some instructors ask students to form small groups and do the read-in on their own time, while others have student pairs conduct peer review or exchange papers in class, but evaluate them (in writing) outside of class.

Again, it is important to stress that the process approach it is easily adapted for use across disciplines whenever attention is given to the process involved in progress toward the final paper.

4. Remind students of the stages of the writing process and help them incorporate attention to each of these as they prepare their work for you:

  • Prewriting
  • Drafting
  • Revising for content
  • Editing for correctness
  • Preparing and proofreading a final copy


    Stress the distinction between editing (a systematic process that examines the paper sentence by sentence andfeature by feature for common errors) and proofreading (a final reading over of the final product). Many students will produce far fewer errors once they know that you expect them to edit their work very carefully and systematically.

Insist that students prepare their work using word processing and following the standard format citation style in your discipline.

Developing Writing Intensive Assignments

If you have used an assignment or series of assignments that require students to submit formal papers that comprise a minimum of 10-12 finished pages, then you have the beginnings of a Writing Intensive (WI) approach to learning.

Depending on the discipline, the "throw them into the deep end of the pool" assignment goes something like this:

Write a 12-page library research paper describing the origins of Psychoanalysis (or Impressionism or the Manhattan Project or Montessori schools.)

Some will argue that this is an effective instructional style, but it is not effective for every student. Some students lack the skills, practice, and/or organizational ability to work completely on their own. Some students come to college without the experiences needed to write as independent scholars. The increasing number of national commissions on writing indicates that this problem is not confined to York College.

How the process of moving  toward  a well-crafted assignment is accomplished is up to the instructor. In the context of WI courses, the word "draft" is broadly defined, and there are many ways to give students feedback as they work through term assignments. These include:

• in-class discussions about assignments

• small-group work among students as they prepare written work, and preliminary or less formal assignments that prepare students for the formal paper(s) required

There are many courses where a long paper is a necessary part of the curriculum, but there are inventive ways to move students toward the final paper so that they are not rewriting (and you are not rereading) the same 12 or 15 pages of work at a time.

Example: Consider the type of report used in scientific journals. These reports include an abstract, review of the literature for a topic or research question, description of the methodology, report of the results, and discussion of the results. The phases toward completion of the final report might include submitting a research question, a tentative outline, and then the sections of the paper can be submitted for review according to a prearranged schedule. In the early stages, you can give a check rather than a grade. The check is to acknowledge submission of the project, not to rate the content of the submission.

In most courses, especially lower-division courses, it is most effective to use shorter assignments. In some cases these can be similar ones where the earlier assignments serve as the "drafts" toward the later ones.

first review to illustrate where the student needs to improve for the next. Again, you might choose not to give a formal grade for the first submission. You are letting the student know what you expect and what needs to be revised so that subsequent reviews actually address your assignment.

Structuring Writing Intensive Course Assignments: Four Faculty Approaches

Professor Conrad Dyer

Political Science 103: Politics and Government in the United States

In this course, the instructor elected to meet the requirement for formal writing by having students write six short essays over the course of the semester. Each of the six essays is a response to a unit of inquiry in the course. The instructor asks students to submit a rough draft in advance of the due date, giving students opportunity to revise each of the six essays.

For each of the course themes, the instructor offers a choice of essay prompts and provides clear guidelines for due dates and secondary sources.

This course introduces you to American government and politics by exploring six major themes starting with the recently

concluded process for nominating and confirming Justice Sotomayor. Subsequent themes examine presidential power, the legislative process, interest groups and political parties, civil liberties and rights, and federalism. A major part of your learning experience is the essay (3-4 pages, typed, double-spaced) that you will develop in relation to each topic. Each essay will be evaluated and returned with written feedback that you will incorporate into a final draft. The assignment for each theme is shown below, along with due dates for the first and final drafts. The course is writing intensive because writing is an important key to understanding difficult material; to develop in this case - accurate, evidence-based opinions about a very complicated subject.

Theme I Sep. 8, 10, 15,

Choosing a new Justice of the Supreme Court

(Judicial review, judicial philosophy, judicial activism, advice

and consent… )

According to a widely accepted definition, politics is ‘a

process for making binding decisions for society.’ In other words, politics determines who gets healthcare and who dies; who goes to prison and who to college; which diseases get money for research; whether people have decent housing and quality education; which crimes get punished; whether we build peaceful or hostile relationships with the rest of the world; or, choosing a new Justice for the United States Supreme Court. The nomination and confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor gives us a unique opportunity to observe this process of making one of the nation’s most important decisions.

Essay 1 First draft due: Sep. 10

Final draft due: Sep. 22

Give a brief background on Sonia Sotomayor; describe her

judicial philosophy in comparison with that of Justices Brennan, Rehnquist, and to two of the fictional judges of Scenario 14; How is her view of the judiciary different or similar to that of Madison or Hamilton?

Discuss the influence of 2 of the following on the final Senate vote: party affiliation, judicial philosophy, public opinion,

electoral considerations, the Bully Pulpit.

Think American Government

, chap. 13 (see also p.51)

Professor Laura Fishman

History 206: Women and the Family in World History

In this course, the instructor divides the formal writing into five

short "medium-stakes" assignments and a "high-stakes" term assignment. The "medium-stakes" assignments serve a dual purpose, representing both "writing-to-learn" and "learning-to-write" pedagogical goals. The writing prompts appear on the syllabus next to the scheduled course readings and are intended to help students understand and engage with the course content through writing. While the instructor includes thirty-seven of these prompts on the syllabus, students are only required to complete five during the semester. This choice allows the instructor to provide commentary on each of the "medium-stakes" assignments the students submit for the course. The instructor expects her students to use her comments to shape their writing in future writing assignments.

Taken together, the five "medium-stakes" writing assignments are weighted as 30% of the course grade and the final writing project is weighted as 40% of the final grade. The following is an example

of the "middle-stakes" writing assignments as they appear in the syllabus.

Approximately 12-15 pages of formal writing will be assigned. Sixty per cent of these assignments will consist of short essays ("medium-stakes writing) which will be regularly assigned,

but concentrated throughout the first two-thirds of the semester. Students will receive detailed written feedback on each of these assignments. It is expected that students will incorporate these suggestions in subsequent assignments, and especially as they prepare their term project ("high-stakes" writing), which will constitute forty per cent of the formal writing assignments. All writing assignments are designed so that students may develop their writing ability, their knowledge of the course content, and most importantly the various higher order thinking skills that are listed as the objectives of the course.

Professor Xiadan Zhang

Sociology 201: Sociological Analysis

In this course, the instructor turns to a traditional interpretation of formal writing by asking students to prepare an 8-10-page research paper due near the end of the semester. One might reasonably assume that here, as in other courses, the instructor makes this pedagogical choice because completing an extended research writing assignment is an essential activity in her academic discipline. However, it is important to the instructor that students also come to understand that writing a research paper is a complex, multi-processed task. This instructor utilizes a "scaffolding" strategy to guide students through the writing of this longer assignment.

I. Introduction Week 1

What is the difference between sex and gender?

Why women’s history?

Women’s history as social history

Role of outstanding/exceptional women

What does feminism mean?

Is a feminist movement still necessary today? What

problems have been solved, and what

issues need to be addressed?

Reading and Writing Assignments:

1. Simone de Beauvoir, Creating Women, Vol. II, 234-237

Why does the author maintain that women have been

defined as "the Other"?

According to the author, what obstacles did women face

in early twentieth-century society?

Why might many women accept their status as "the


that lead up to the final longer research paper. Students are asked to submit a description of their topic for approval, and then a paper outline and interview questions. Two weeks before the due date, students also submit a rough draft of the paper and are expected to use the professor’s feedback to revise the draft. Thus, even though students create a longer product, the scaffolded assignment structure facilitates a dialogic relationship between student writers and the professor that progresses throughout the semester.

Professor Sharon Faust

Occupational Therapy 509: Psychosocial Intervention I

This upper-division course is part of a professional program in which it is essential for students to master the conventions of the

case study, a genre of writing specific to their professional field.

Research Paper

You will conduct an ethnographic research project for this paper. Choose a research topic in which you are interested. Use one of the sociological approaches we learn in the class (e.g. structural or cultural approach; or use the concept "social

institution") to analyze the first hand data you obtain through interviews.

Length: 8-10 pages. You should first submit one paragraph that briefly discusses your chosen topic. After your topic is

approved you need to submit a paper outline and interview questions. Students are also required to hand in their first drafts two weeks before the due date and revise them based on the professor’s comments and suggestions. These five steps (one paragraph of ideas, paper outline, interview questions, first draft and final version) should be recorded in your e-portfolio.



The purpose of this case study is to compare observations and information gained in your clinical experience with the classical components of the patient you have chosen. After selecting a patient using the resources available to you, write a case study including the information listed below. Please use headings listed below. Use professional terminology and use references on all researched information which is not your own original thinking.


• Do not pick a difficult case - select a typical case after

consulting with your supervisor.

• Use a case in which you can get required information

and data from records, charts, clinicians, etc. Avoid

• Select a client you can interview, observe, or for whom

you can interview significant others.

• Objectives of this case study:

1. Note signs and symptoms of a diagnosis

2. Note how individuals with mental illness are assessed

3. Note how treatment plans are developed

4. Compare/contrast actual case with a typical textbook





Identifying Data – Personal/Environmental Contexts. (included but not limited to)

A. Age - Sex

B. Marital Status

C. Ethnic Background

D. Date of admission - previous admissions (briefly stated)

E. Precipitating factors leading to admission (symptoms, stres-

Writing Intensive Courses 22

sors, etc.)

F. Daily activities

G. Diagnosis (Multiaxial evaluation)

Historical Data (social, vocational, educational Hx.)

A. Developmental history (milestones) –examples

B. Social history (family, acquaintances, groups - cultural,

religious,professional, leisure, community, etc.

C. Past illnesses (those related to present illness, Hx. Of

psychological/physical problems (include D/C plans


D. Educational history

E. Employment history

F. Other

II. Impact:

A. Discuss course of disorder specific to your patient

B. lmpact of psychiatric/physical disorder through life

C. Impact of physical condition(s) as appropriate through life

IllA. Assessment - Clinic

A. What assessment tools were used?

B. What areas were evaluated – what data was collected?

C. Interpretation of data (impact on occupation)

Outline all of the above clearly for Other Disciplines.

(If no other disciplines contribute to the Data Base – indicate)

IIIB. Assessment - OT

A. What assessment tools were used?

B. What areas were evaluated – what data was collected?

C. Interpretation of data (impact on occupation)

Outline all of the above clearly for Other Disciplines.

(If no other disciplines contribute to the Data Base – indicate)

IV. Treatment Plan - Interdisciplinary (excluding Occupa

tional Therapy)

A. Identify problems/Strengths

B. Goals

strategy to help students prepare the final assignment. However, instead of asking students to submit outlines and a draft, the instructor scaffolds the case study by requiring students to complete a weekly "log" assignment. Each week, students prepare a log entry; each log entry corresponds to a different section of the case study. Students have the opportunity to share their logs in class and to receive feedback from the instructor. Thus, the preparation of the case study at the conclusion of the semester really consists of revising and assembling log entries.

C. Treatment methods/approaches

D. Specific discharge options

V. Intervention Plan - Occupational Therapy

A. Identify problem

B. Goals

C. Intervention/approaches/methods/types(use OTPF


D. Outcome(s) Discharge plan (use OTPF terminology)

VI. Intervention plan - Student

For the client you have selected develop your own

treatment plan including:

A. Your F.O.R. and rationale

B. Profile interview (include Interest Checklist COPM)

include forms

Adapted from Louisiana State University’s Case Study


Writing Intensive Courses 24

Low- and High-Stakes Writing

Student writing assignments may be characterized as low-stakes and high-stakes – inexact but useful distinctions that suggest a range of writing activities for differing instructional purposes. Although most advice in this Handbook focuses on high-stakes writing that is the special charge of the Writing Intensive (WI) instructor, the WI courses – like all courses – can and should make use of low-stakes and middle-stakes writing in the service of instruction.

Low-Stakes Writing

Low-stakes writing promotes classroom learning. It is typically

informal, briefly reviewed or non-graded, and often focuses on the student’s thought processes as he/she learns new content. This kind of writing includes free writes, letters, think pieces, personal responses, notebooks, reading logs, journals, and diaries. finished product). These exercises in interactive learning are called "low-stakes" because grades are not greatly affected by them.

Low-stakes writing helps instructors find out what students do

understand, and, more importantly, when they are confused. It reveals the students’ thought processes as they attempt to organize concepts. This feedback enables the instructor to intervene helpfully and promptly. York College • City University of New York 25 Handbook for Writing in General Education.

High-Stakes Writing

High-stakes writing, formal writing is required in all Writing Intensive (WI) courses and is the kind of writing most familiar to teachers and students alike, the classic formal paper often based on reading or research. These assignments are called "high-stakes" because grades are tied to them.

The goal of high-stakes writing is to measure students’ progress or

learning or mastery of a subject and also their ability to write effectively about that subject.

High-stakes writing should be the result or end product of a writing process with several stages. The paper may be one to which the instructor has responded in the draft stage or the paper may evolve from a series of low- or middle-stakes writing assignments, including outlines, notes, project proposals, and drafts.

Examples of low-stakes response writing include 5 minutes of writing at the beginning of class to help students bring to mind the previous lecture, homework reading, or lab work; 5 minutes in mid class when an important question arises; or

5 minutes at the end of class to reflect upon what has been discussed/learned/misunderstood: what were key ideas for them. Such exercises will help students absorb and integrate the course material. Writing Intensive Courses 26

Responding to Student Writing

Responding to students’ writing is the part of WAC that often worries instructors because it is here that incorporating more writing into their courses seems most like an imposition, demanding more time from the instructor. But, in fact, responding to students’ writing may not require as much time as you might think.