The College

Writing Requirement

Brown expects you to approach your undergraduate studies as an intellectual process that unfolds over time. Growth in writing is essential to this process.

Minimum Expectation

Learning to write well is a developmental process that occurs over time. For this reason, all Brown undergraduates must work on their writing with intention and focus at least twice during their undergraduate studies.

The Writing Requirement at Brown requires students to take at least one writing-designated (WRIT in Courses@Brown) course or any English, Literary Arts, or Comparative Literature course in semesters 1-4 as well as at least one additional qualifying writing course in semesters 5-7.

A student's Internal Academic Record will list the Writing Requirement as completed 24-48 hours after a passing grade has been entered.

Only Transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education students may satisfy Part I of the Writing Requirement with a transfer credit from a non-Brown course taken at a previous institution. To satisfy Part I, the transfer credit must be an unassigned English, Literary Arts, or Comparative Literature course credit. Transfer and RUE students with no such prior course must take an approved course at Brown, unless they matriculated as juniors, but they have an additional two terms to do so.  Transfer students who matriculated at Brown as juniors are exempted from Part I of the Writing Requirement but must satisfy Part II of the Writing Requirement at Brown, like all other undergraduates. 

Students (non-transfer and non-RUE) who do not satisfy Part I of the Writing Requirement will be blocked from participating in pre-registration for their fifth semester. In order to get the registration hold lifted, the student would have to meet with an academic advising dean to devise a plan to finish Part I as soon as possible. 

A student who is not listed in one of the approved  concentrations below must complete a writing-designated course or any course in English, Literary Arts, or Comparative Literature. They may not use independent studies courses to satisfy the Writing Requirement unless the department offers an independent study course that is writing-designated.

To make such arrangements, a department must submit a course proposal for a new independent study course in which every section, regardless of the instructor, would meet the criteria for a writing-designated course.  

Approved Alternatives to a Second Writing-Designated Course Allowed Only in Select Concentrations

Biology (including the AB/SCB, Applied Math-Biology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Computational Biology, and Health and Human Biology), German Studies concentrators, and Math concentrators may submit writing completed in the concentration to satisfy the requirement in lieu of a second writing-designated course. Writing must be approved by the end of the 7th (or penultimate) semester and will be reviewed and approved by the concentration advisor or a faculty member that they may designate in ASK. Speak with your concentration advisor for additional information. 

Instructions for students and faculty in participating departments are available in the IT knowledgebase.

Students who do not satisfy Parts I and II of the Writing Requirement will not be eligible to graduate. Students who anticipate difficulty meeting these requirements in a timely way should consult with an academic advising dean for guidance by scheduling an appointment as soon as possible.

Assessment Criteria

You are required to demonstrate that you have worked on your writing across your four years at Brown. The following criteria will help you assess competence and guide you in developing your writing skills.

  • Highly competent writers:
    • Create coherent and well-developed responses to assignments
    • Demonstrate a high level of critical and abstract thinking
    • Demonstrate a sophisticated appreciation for readers’ needs
    • Support their arguments with relevant, detailed and convincing evidence
    • Logically sequence their paragraphs with content-based transitions
    • Use appropriate diction and tone and constructively vary sentence structures
    • Use correct grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax
  • Competent writers:
    • Exhibit moderate ability to think critically and abstractly in response to assignments
    • Clearly attempt to address intended readers’ needs
    • Sufficiently organize and develop their ideas so as not to impair the readers’ understanding
    • Use loosely or unclearly related examples
    • Sometimes use weak transitions between paragraphs
    • Depend upon basic sentence structures, phrasing and usage
    • Occasionally use incorrect grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax, but not to the point where errors impair the reader’s understanding of the text
  • Writers whose work falls below the level of competence typically:
    • Exhibit little or no ability to think critically or abstractly
    • Fail to recognize the needs of the reader
    • Fail to answer the questions asked in assignments
    • Depend upon weak generalizations and undeveloped examples
    • Fail to write coherent prose
    • Use imprecise or inappropriate vocabulary
    • Fail to demonstrate sufficient understanding of grammar, punctuation and syntax.

Available Courses

As a student at Brown, you are expected to work on your writing in your general studies and in your concentration. To that end, Brown offers a number of courses that will help you develop your writing abilities. You are encouraged to take at least one of these courses in your first year of study and at least one additional writing course in your area of concentration.

Writing-designated courses provide you with feedback about your writing and opportunities to apply that feedback on the same assignment or when completing writing assignments later in the course. 

The Nonfiction Writing Program in Brown's English Department offers a number of intensive writing courses that will help you develop your abilities to write academic essays, journalism and creative nonfiction.

In Writing Fellows courses, you will improve your written communication skills through intensive work with another Brown student, called a Writing Fellow, who has been trained in composition and pedagogy.