Writing Competency Handbook

Writing Competency: A Handbook

Prefatory Note

The purpose of this online handbook is to identify the criteria that define a capably rendered college-level argumentative essay (i.e., a piece of expository writing or an analytical essay).

Competent Writing: A Definition
The Writing Competency Requirement
The Whole Paper
Criteria for Evaluating an Essay

Competent Writing: A Definition

At Hartwick College, “competent writing” involves more than the ability to construct a simple sentence, write a five-sentence paragraph, or compose a one-page business letter. A competent college writer can craft an essay of at least five pages that focuses on a single, preeminent assertion and supports it with well-chosen subordinate premises and credibly sourced outside reference. The well-rendered college-level essay has a controlling purpose: to persuade or inform—typically both.

Unity of purpose—that is, “coherence” and “cogency” —are, then, critical features of competent collegiate writing. To achieve unity of purpose, the writer must be able to sustain and support an idea through several logically coherent paragraphs.

The Writing Competency Requirement

(for students who matriculated prior to Fall 2020)

In order to graduate, students at Hartwick College must demonstrate competence in college-level writing. Such demonstration can be made in one of two ways:

  • By progressing to Level 4 through a sequence of courses outlined below, beginning with the course at the level where the student was placed upon admission to the college.
  • By achieving Level 4 in the Writing Proficiency Examination. The student may not retake the examination before completing the course at the level at which he or she was placed upon admission to the college.

Students should take their first writing course during their first year and are expected to satisfy the requirement by the middle of their junior year.

Course Sequence

(for students who matriculated prior to Fall 2020)

The sequence of courses described below is designed to offer increasingly complex and challenging writing tasks. Accordingly, the courses must be taken in sequence. A student placed at Level 1 must take English 101 before taking English 110. A student may take a Level 3 course at any time but may not receive writing credit that advances them to “WL4” unless they are at Level 3.

Level 1 students will register for English 101: Writing Essentials. Students who successfully complete English 101 will pass to Level 2.

Level 2 students will register for English 110: College Writing. Students who earn a grade of A- or higher will pass to Level 4; those who complete 110 with a grade of C through B + will pass to Level 3. Students receiving a grade of D- through C- will pass to Level 2b.

Level 2b students will register for English 111: Writing Workshop. Students who successfully complete English 111 will pass to Level 3.

Level 3 students will register for courses offered in many departments and in all divisions, and designated in the course schedule by a WD.

Beginning in fall 2020, a student at “WL3” may take a “WD” course—at the 200- or 300-level—in her/his/their major or in another major to advance to “WL4.”

Level 4 students who attain Level 4 through course work (or subsequent testing) are considered to be able to write at the college level of competency. They should maintain and sharpen their skills by taking courses that require essays, reports, short papers, and essay examinations.

Transfer students

Transfer credit from nationally and regionally accredited colleges is given for courses substantially similar to those offered at Hartwick College, completed with a grade of C or higher. For the purposes of Hartwick College’s Writing Competency Program, students who before entry have attained a grade of C or better in a college-level composition course offered at an accredited collegiate institution will receive college credit for ENGL-110 (“Composition”) and will thus be admitted at WL3. College-level composition courses taken as part of a dual-enrollment program qualify for this allowance. “AP” credit high school courses do not qualify for this allowance.

The Whole Paper

A competent paper on any subject states, defines, and fulfills its purpose. It achieves unity. The writer announces the purpose in an explicit statement, variously called the “thesis” or the “hypothesis” or the “proposition,” placing it in one of the first paragraphs of an extended argument (“analytical essay”). The thesis statement signals the organization of the entire essay. It is the essay’s cornerstone.

The writer’s purpose in most expository or analytical writing is either to persuade or to inform a particular audience. The writer attempts to persuade the audience of the legitimacy of a point of view.

A competently rendered expository or analytical essay moves logically from point to point so that each paragraph extends, refines, qualifies, or builds upon the previous one. The concluding paragraph restates the main point in slightly different terms: the writer speaks more abstractly and with greater confidence. His examples have given him that right.

A well-edited essay contains no spelling or punctuation errors, its diction for the most part is precise, its sentences are varied. Few final drafts are ever “perfect,” and so most college professors will suggest improvements, although a reader’s commentary does not necessarily constitute a judgment that the paper is not in fact been competently written, and perhaps even exceptionally well written.

Criteria for Evaluating an Essay

The following questions can serve as a guide for determining whether a formal essay represents a competent piece of writing.

  1. Is the paper’s purpose made clear in the first paragraph, either by an explicit statement or by implication?
  2. Is the thesis or purpose evident throughout the paper? (Every paragraph, every sentence should further the paper’s purpose.)
  3. Does the paper have a discernible organizational pattern? Are the reasons for the arrangement and the order of the paragraphs implicitly clear?Does the paper move logically from point to point?
  4. Does the paper contain sufficient convincing evidence in support of the thesis?
  5. Is the paper addressed to a specific audience? Does the proffered evidence or explanation seem appropriate to the audience? Does the paper bridge the potential gap between the writer’s understanding of the topic and the reader’s, and does it lead the reader carefully, conscientiously, and authoritatively through the argument or explanation?
  6. Is there a satisfactory concluding statement or paragraph? Does the paper end with a sense of completeness, authority, perhaps even of climax?