You might be an absolute genius, but if you don't know how to communicate effectively, being smart won't do you much good. That's where the Writing and Rhetoric Program at Hobart and William Smith can help. Available as an individual major, the program offers small, workshop-style classes and emphasizes the development and integration of thinking, reading, and writing skills.

In every course, no matter what the topic, writing is approached as both art and craft. Students refine their talent for analysis and argument, learn to express their own ideas in highly creative ways, sharpen their sense of audience, and pay close attention to the details of grammar and style. Whether you plan to attend law school or become a computer scientist, a biochemist or a social worker, strong writing ability is important to your success. The Writing and Rhetoric Program offers careful, individual attention to your growth as a writer.

Students in the program may take their experience one step further by qualifying for the Writing Colleagues Program. This program prepares student mentors to help with the teaching of writing and reading. Writing colleagues act as conduits between professors and fellow students; they help professors brainstorm ideas for classroom activities and meet with students to discuss their writing and critical reading abilities.

Curricular Guidelines

Students at Hobart and William Smith Colleges can choose from a variety of Writing and Rhetoric courses in order to strengthen their writing skills. Whether the course is an introductory section of WRRH 100, an intermediate course at the 200-level, or more advanced study at the 300- or 400-level, two primary curricular guidelines are shared by all Writing and Rhetoric faculty as they prepare their courses: 1) writing can be used as a way of learning as well as a means of communication, and 2) learning to write quality, formal texts happens through a process rather than through the one-time production of a single draft.

Though specific reading and writing assignments vary in every writing course and become more complex as the course level changes, a common emphasis across course levels is the principle that writing can be used as a way of learning as well as a means of communication. When writing is presented as a way of learning, students use writing in order to discover, examine, and test their ideas about reading assignments, class discussions, lectures, and essay topics. Such writing is usually informal, can take a variety of forms (invention techniques, reading logs, response papers, class journals, and so on), and represents the kind of active thinking and critical engagement with course material that helps students prepare for more formal writing tasks. Writing to learn becomes a vehicle for figuring out and refining what we think before we communicate publicly to others. When writing is practiced as a means of communication, students are required to consider the more demanding constraints of public discourse.

All Writing and Rhetoric courses, then, share in common the idea that there is a relationship between writing to learn and writing to communicate. Our second common curricular guideline is that learning to write quality, formal texts happens through a process rather than through the one-time production of a single draft. Invention activities help generate ideas, multiple drafts stress revision and structure as well as editing and polishing of texts, and techniques to understand the demands of audience and purpose connect to form and content: all are important elements to the curricular guideline that values writing as process.

When students enroll in a WRRH 100 section, therefore, they are expected to develop an understanding of and ability to use this dynamic relationship between writing as a means to learn and a mode of communication and to do so through the practical application of writing as process. WRRH 100 introduces academic literacy practices in terms of these two curricular guidelines. These practices are then extended in more sophisticated and complex ways within upper-level writing courses. Courses from the 200-level upwards, in other words, build on and apply the curricular guidelines introduced in WRRH 100.

With these two primary curricular guidelines at their core, then, all writing courses at Hobart and William Smith share these common practices:

  1. Reading and writing are always integrated activities.
    In practice, this means that reading is used as a springboard for writing projects, and writing is used as a way of understanding reading. Journals as well as other invention activities may be used, for instance, as a way for students to understand that critical reading can be practiced through writing about reading and that writing can be strengthened through careful, critical reading. Some writing courses (for example, WRRH 252: An Anatomy of American Class or WRRH 300: Discourse of Rape) use a single topic of inquiry approach to develop integrated reading and writing that provide a common ground for discussion and assignments. Other writing courses (for example, WRRH 100) use a mixture of reading and writing topics. In either approach, reading and writing are integrated activities.
  2. Speaking and listening skills are valued as part of learning to present ideas.
    In practice, this means that student discussion is central to classroom practice rather than a professor’s lecture. Large and small group conversation, as well as individual and group presentations, are valued activities and considered important to the process of expressing and honing ideas.
  3. Rhetorical analysis of audience and purpose is central to the writing task.
    In practice, this means that as students develop ideas for writing projects or analyze assigned readings, they learn to be conscious of the relationship between audience and purpose and, thus, the choices available in terms of form and content.
  4. Summary, analysis, and argument are stressed as important academic writing modes.
    In practice, this means that writing projects are meant to mirror the critical and analytical modes required of students in their college literacy practices.
  5. Student choice is considered an important component of successful writing.
    In practice, this means that writing projects usually require individual design by students, especially in terms of determining essay topics.
  6. Collaboration is practiced as integral to the writing process.
    In practice, this means that various forms of group and conferencing activities are practiced at all stages of a writing project, from first idea to final editing. Students critique their written texts with peers in small group workshops, meet with professors for individual conferencing, and often develop co-authored writing projects.
  7. Editing and polishing are necessary steps in producing a final written text.
    In practice, this means that time is spent on the conventions of grammar and mechanics as well as proper documentation format for each writing task.
  8. Library and internet research techniques are central to particular writing tasks.
    In practice, this means that students are introduced to library and internet research tools and are expected to learn how to integrate sources into their writing without plagiarizing.
  9. Understanding why writing choices are made is as important as making such choices.
    In practice, this means that metacognitive activities, like self-evaluation statements, process notes, or rhetorical analyses, are required so that students can reflect on what they are doing and thus strengthen their sense of what works and why for various writing tasks.
  10. Alternative forms of assessment, with regular feedback, are important to a writer’s development.
    In practice, this means that assessment techniques valuing process, such as portfolios and written commentary, may be used more than traditional grading of the final written product.

Some students may have the ability to begin writing practice in a 200-level WRRH course or higher. Others may be better served by starting with the WRRH 100 course. Considering a student’s application materials or successful completion of the First Year Seminar will help determine the appropriate choice of course level. After observing a student’s performance and level of ability, the academic adviser is in the best position to help the student decide upon a starting point.


Margueritte S. Murphy
Writing and Rhetoric
214 Smith Hall
(315) 781-3818      


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.