Letter to the Editor: April 18th, 2012
Regarding “Post-thesis evaluation of writing seminar” (April 6th, 2012) and “In defense of: writing seminar” (March 29th, 2012):
The Writing Seminars were roundly criticized in two recent ‘Prince’ columns. While individuals are clearly entitled to their views, it’s worth noting that course evaluation data for the Writing Seminars paints a very different picture. Our average score of 4.1 was not included in the front-page analysis of evaluations in the ‘Prince’ on April 3, but we’re proud that the only course required of every Princeton student — and therefore uniquely exposed to scrutiny and skepticism — consistently beats the University average of 3.9.
Beyond the numbers, students’ narrative evaluation comments most commonly praise the introduction Writing Seminars offer to crafting a motivated argument that responds to a genuine question, problem or controversy. The topics of the seminars give freshmen interdisciplinary intellectual territory to explore as they practice strategies for thoughtfully arguing the significance of their own ideas in the context of an ongoing scholarly conversation. In other words, we see “content” and “writing” as integrally connected.
Perhaps the most mystifying claim in the columns was that Writing Seminars are a training ground for all-nighters in advance of deadlines. We emphatically reject the idea that we promote last-minute writing. As online responses have noted, the Writing Seminars are designed to encourage precisely the opposite: that is, to participate in the kind of drafting, feedback and revision sequence followed by professional writers and academics.
Writing a persuasive argument is hard work and almost always requires a process of radical revision. However, revision is not a matter of “starting over,” but of “moving forward”: taking the most interesting discoveries one makes in the draft, pushing to develop them further and then shaping them clearly and convincingly for readers. That core practice of the Writing Seminars is reflected in the Writing Center’s campaign against binge writing: “Be the Tortoise!” encourages writers to avoid sprinting like the notorious hare of the fable and to adopt instead a slow-and-steady pace, with time built in for drafting, feedback and revision.
We do agree, however, that the connection between freshman and senior year for student writers needs more work. While we teach the research essay in the Writing Seminars with Princeton’s senior thesis requirement foremost in mind, a 12-week course is just the start of developing as a college writer. The practices of research and writing must be continually revisited and deepened as one undertakes projects of increasing scope and learns the specific expectations of a chosen field.
That’s why the Writing Program seeks out opportunities to help student writers beyond the freshman year. Examples include workshops for juniors in economics, senior thesis writing groups in more than 20 disciplines and a growing number of “Thesis Boot Camps.” The Writing Center also holds more than 4,000 individual conferences annually, including 80-minute appointments for junior paper and senior thesis writers (choose your Fellow by department if you wish) as well as other specialized appointments throughout the year. And we always welcome your ideas about how to create the best of homes for student writers here on campus.
Amanda Irwin Wilkins, Director of the Princeton Writing Program
Andrea Scott, Associate Director for the Writing Seminars
Andrew Blumenfeld ’13, Writing Center Outreach Committee
Wynne Callon ’13, Writing Center Outreach Committee
Caroline Pinke ’12, Writing Center Outreach Committee
Shu Haur Tang ’12, Writing Center Outreach Committee