Learning Outcomes Statement for Expository Writing

The following Outcomes Statement describes the knowledge and skills that students should expect to learn by the end of a course in Expository Writing. Like the “WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition”1 on which it is based, the Expos Statement identifies learning outcomes as “types of results,” or goals, rather than as “‘standards,’ or precise levels of achievement.” As the WPA explains, these Outcomes “are supported by a large body of research” and envision writing as a complex intellectual and rhetorical practice that is “individual and social and demands continued practice and informed guidance.” All courses in Expos are designed to introduce students to writing as a process of thinking and to guide their practice in writing as they learn how to engage with the work of other scholars, communicate their thinking clearly to readers, and develop their own ideas. Following the WPA Outcomes Statement, we have organized our Outcomes into four categories that reflect our approach to the teaching of writing at Johns Hopkins.

Writing as Inquiry

By the end of a course in Expos, students should . . .

  • Regard writing not as a static restatement of what they already know but as a way of thinking about what they do not know—as a means of inquiry.
  • View academic writing as an ongoing conversation in which scholars collaborate collectively and publicly in inquiry, attempting to understand what they do not know.
  • Recognize that their purpose as writers within this specific context is always to contribute to the ongoing discussion, by challenging and building on the work of other scholars, and by adding something new of their own to the conversation.
  • Know that to achieve their purpose in this context, they must first understand the genre conventions of academic writing, since conventions prescribe and direct not only what they might add but the process by which they develop it and the way in which they express it.

Writing as Convention

By the end of a course in Expos, students should . . .

  • Understand that academic writing is a complex, social activity with specific social aims.
  • Recognize that all such writing is governed by specific genre conventions, and that these conventions vary from discipline to discipline while retaining a common structure that students can learn to identify and apply in their own writing.
  • Know how to identify this argumentative structure in a range of texts and disciplines, for different audiences and occasions.
  • Know how to apply this structure in arguments of their own. To accomplish this goal, students must learn to . . .
    • Identify the problem, or question, they are addressing in their argument.
    • Accurately present an established view (or views) of the problem, an existing answer (or answers) to the question raised by the problem.
    • Present a convincing flaw (or flaws) in the established view (or views).
    • Develop an insightful thesis—their answer to the question—as they thoughtfully reason with evidence paragraph by paragraph.
    • Explain why their thesis is important to consider and logically trace its implications for a more important topic related to the thesis.
  • Students should learn to follow other writing conventions as well. They should also know how to . . .
    • Accurately summarize data, information, and arguments.
    • Logically structure beginnings, middles, and endings, and write effective titles.
    • Write clear “road signs” to guide readers through their essays.
    • Orient their readers with explanations and information wherever they are necessary for their readers’ understanding.
    • Integrate quotations into their sentences and correctly use block quotations.
    • Write simply, directly, and clearly as they use the conventions of grammar, usage, and punctuation.
    • Avoid plagiarism.
    • Cite and document sources, consistently using an appropriate style of documentation.

Writing as Critical Thinking

By the end of a course in Expos, students should . . .

  • Understand that academic writing is always critical. It creates dissonance. It challenges the views of others. Although it collaborates with other scholars in conversation, it argues that our answers are better than other answers. It provides evidence and explanations to prove our answers are true, yet acknowledges their limitations.
  • Know how to engage critically with the views of other scholars. To accomplish this goal, students must learn how to . . .
    • Establish a conversation between themselves and a single secondary source, and then among two or more secondary sources.
    • Logically evaluate the claims of each of their secondary sources, with the purpose of finding a flaw (or flaws) in the source (or sources)—for example, in the use of evidence, the reasoning, the key terms, or the supporting assumptions of the source (or sources).
    • Enter the conversation between or among their sources by identifying a flaw (or flaws) in the secondary source (or sources), and then by correcting the flaw (or flaws) to add something new of their own to the ongoing discussion.
    • Support their own addition to the ongoing discussion with evidence and clear explanations while addressing relevant counter-arguments as well as potential objections.
    • Acknowledge the limitations of their own arguments and at times suggest a direction for future scholarship.

Writing as Process

Finally, by the end of a course in Expos, students should . . .

  • Recognize that writing is a process of thinking. As E. M. Forster famously asked, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
  • Know that the process of writing differs with genre conventions, and understand through practice that these direct the process and the thinking that occurs within it.
  • Know how to use the common structure of all academic writing to focus and develop their arguments through appropriate steps or stages and through multiple drafts, reading, drafting, rewriting, collaborating with classmates in peer reviews and workshops, recursively reading again, redrafting, rewriting, and editing.
  • Know how to use their writing as a means of inquiry—to develop and discover, through writing, their own original ideas.

Note

  1. “The WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition” was adopted by the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA) in 2014. As the Council explains, based on best knowledge, this “statement articulates what composition teachers nationwide have learned from practice, research, and theory.” It is available on the Council of Writing Program Administrators website.