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College of Arts & Sciences
First-Year English

Why Write?

Why do you need to take two college courses that teach you how to write, something you've been doing for years now?  First of all, rest assured that the writing you'll do at USC is different and likely more demanding than anything you've done thus far in your academic career.  Beyond that, here are three good reasons:

1--Writing is a Valuable Life Skill

Students new to college sometimes mistakenly think that unless they major in English or a related field, they won't need to write much. Not so. The truth is that all educated people have to write.

In your courses, you'll write papers, essay exams, lab reports, book reviews, and team projects. On the job, you may create presentations, memos, and budget analyses. In your community, you may email politicians, post comments on Websites or Facebook, or even craft press releases. Whatever you do during and after college, it will probably involve writing.

But you shouldn't write just because you have to. You should also cultivate your writing skills as a way of exploring issues that interest you and thinking critically about them. One of the greatest satisfactions to be gained from writing comes from finding out that you know more than you thought you did. Exciting things happen when you work hard at writing: you discover ideas and connections that you didn't know were there, expose possibilities for further thinking and research, and sharpen the ideas and images that you started with. It's tremendously satisfying to be able to say exactly what you mean.

The ability to succeed at the writing tasks you face in and out of school, the ability to discover and clarify what you think about important issues:  these are skills that your English 101 and 102 teachers will help you learn. And like any skill, writing takes time and attention and practice.

2--Writing Contributes to Overall Academic Success

Although you'll encounter courses at USC that require you to demonstrate your mastery of information by taking objective, non-essay tests, many university courses--especially those above the introductory level--require you to write. In every discipline you must collect, analyze, and present information. No matter what your major, you'll need to go through the same basic process you'll learn in writing papers for First-Year English.

Clearly, assignments in different disciplines vary greatly in purpose, content, and organization. However, in order to communicate information to readers, any academic project must be written in clear, persuasive prose that presents arguments logically and effectively. Rarely, if ever, do the facts of a given situation speak for themselves, and teachers are generally impressed when a student’s work moves beyond the simple facts to present the ideas and connections underlying them. Thus, while being able to write well is often reward enough, having the skill and confidence to communicate clearly and persuasively in these situations can also make a real difference in your academic record. 

3--Writing is an Essential Part of the Liberal Arts Goal of the University

USC is not a technical or professional training school. It's a university, an institution whose faculty and students study a wide range of disciplines in the humanities, arts, sciences, social sciences, engineering, health care, business, and law. The purpose of the institution is to discover, understand, and disseminate information in all these areas.

The university's obligation to you is to lead you to think carefully and broadly about our world and the cultural and social structures we human beings have developed to help us live in it. Therefore, although you'll concentrate your studies in one discipline or curriculum, you'll also be required to take courses in many different areas. This is an ancient tradition dating back to the beginning of universities, and is known as the liberal arts program, liberal deriving from the Latin word for freedom.

The rationale behind a varied curriculum is that everything connects-- that the knowledge gained and the procedures used in one discipline can help us to understand better our own disciplines and to evaluate better the relative importance of all human knowledge.  By engaging knowledge in this way, we can work to master it, instead of having knowledge master us--we can, in a word, be truly free.

Language is one thing that connects every branch of study, and clear writing and speaking skills are essential for the transmission of knowledge. Furthermore, the process of writing reinforces the basic problem-solving skills you must develop to deal with questions in any discipline. Writing also contributes to and benefits from the analytical thinking skills that universities encourage.

In your First-Year English courses, then, you'll be asked to write papers on a number of different topics, and you'll be required to design them to achieve many different purposes. Some assignments will require that you simply present information about one of these topics. Others will ask you to go a significant step further to develop, articulate, and defend your opinions on this information. This task is at the heart of the goals of a university because it requires you not only to master and present information, but also to evaluate that information, to show that you understand the deep and complex connections between different aspects of knowledge.