Courses of Study 2014-2015 
    Jun 15, 2024  
Courses of Study 2014-2015 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines

The John S. Knight Institute helps to coordinate the teaching of writing in all undergraduate schools and colleges (the School of Industrial and Labor Relations; the School of Hotel Administration; and the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Architecture, Art, and Planning; Arts and Sciences; Engineering; and Human Ecology). The program administers writing seminars for first-year and upperclass students, discipline-based seminars in its Writing in the Majors Program, tutorial writing classes, and seminars in the teaching of writing. More than 30 academic departments and programs participate in the program.


The director of the John S. Knight Institute is Paul Lincoln Sawyer, professor in the Department of English. Katherine Gottschalk, senior lecturer in the Department of English, is the director of First-Year Writing Seminars. The institute’s offices are in 101 McGraw Hall, (607) 255–4061.

T. Carrick (Writing Workshop), D. Evans (Writing Workshop), D. Faulkner (Writing Workshop), K. King-O’Brien (Writing Workshop), J. Martin (Writing Workshop), J. Sands (Writing Workshop), E. Shapiro (Writing in the Majors).

First-Year Writing Seminars:

For first-year students the Institute offers the First-Year Writing Seminars—more than 125 different courses in the humanities, social sciences, expressive arts, and sciences. Through introductory work in a particular field of study, seminars help students write good English expository prose—prose that, at its best, is characterized by clarity, coherence, intellectual force, and stylistic control. All seminars pursue this common aim through small classes and adherence to a program-wide set of guidelines:

  • Seminars should require at least six—and at most nine—formal essays on new topics, totaling 25–30 pages of polished prose.
  • No fewer than three of the six to nine required essays should go through a process of development under the instructor’s guidance (e.g., revision, peer review, responses to readings, conferences).
  • All seminars should spend ample classroom time on work directly related to writing.
  • Reading assignments in the course subject should be kept under ca. 75 pages per week to permit regular, concentrated work on writing.
  • All students should meet in at least two individual conferences with the instructor.

Offerings change from semester to semester. Each semester’s First-Year Writing Seminars are described on the web at

First-Year Writing Seminars aim to ensure that students will enjoy the benefits of small classes. Instead of pre-enrolling in their writing courses, students request placement in one of five writing seminars by filling out an electronic ballot in late July/early August for the fall semester and in November for the spring semester. Over 95 percent receive one of their top three choices. After placement by ballot, students may change their writing seminars via electronic add and drop. Writing seminars may be added only during the first two weeks of each semester.

The colleges and the schools served by the Institute accept First-Year Writing Seminars in fulfillment of their individual graduation requirements in categories referred to variously as “first-year writing,” “oral and written expression,” and the like. The Institute does not decide whether students may graduate: it makes courses available. Individual colleges and schools administer their own graduation requirements.

Currently, most undergraduate students are required to take two First-Year Writing Seminars. Architecture majors, however, need only one. Hotel students fulfill their requirement through HADM 1650  in one semester plus one First-Year Writing Seminar in the other. Agriculture and Life Sciences students can take First-Year Writing Seminars or choose from among a variety of other courses to fulfill their requirement.

All students who score 5 on the Princeton Advanced Placement Examination in English receive 3 credits. Such credits are awarded automatically; no application to the John S. Knight Institute or the Department of English is necessary. How these credits may be applied to first-year writing or other distribution requirements depends on the student’s college and score. All students who score 5, except Architecture majors, may apply their 3 credits toward the writing requirements of their college. Of students who score 4, only Agriculture and Life Sciences students may apply their 3 credits toward the writing requirements of their college. Students should always consult their college registrars to be certain that they understand their writing requirements.

Students who have already taken a First-Year Writing Seminar, or who score 4 or 5 on the Princeton AP exam, or 700 or better on the English Composition or CEEB tests, may enroll, space permitting, in the following upper-level First-Year Writing Seminar: ENGL 1270 .

Although there are no exemptions from college writing requirements, some students may fulfill all or part of their college’s writing requirement through transfer credits or writing-course substitutions.

For work done at other institutions to be accepted as equivalent to First-Year Writing Seminars, students should demonstrate that they have done a reasonably equivalent amount of writing in a formal course (e.g., it is not sufficient to write one 30-page term paper.) Students in the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences must file an “application for transfer evaluation” to request writing credit for such courses; students in other colleges should consult their college registrars.

In unusual circumstances, upper-level students may petition to use a Cornell writing course other than a First-Year Writing Seminar to satisfy part of their writing requirement. The John S. Knight Institute must approve all such petitions in advance.

For information about the requirements for First-Year Writing Seminars and descriptions of seminar offerings, see the John S. Knight Institute website at

Additional Information:

Expository Writing helps students write with more confidence and skill in all disciplines. It is open to Cornell sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have completed their colleges’ first-year writing requirements or have the permission of the instructor. ENGL 2880 ENGL 2890  courses explore themes shaped by a genre or use of expository writing, by the common concerns of several disciplines, or by an interdisciplinary topic intimately related to the written medium. Although English department instructors make up roughly half the staff, the Knight Institute’s involvement enables the course to extend and diversify its offerings in separately defined, 18-member sections that appeal to the varied interests and needs of students in many areas of study. Students may choose among a variety of sections focusing on such themes as “A Boy Named Sue: Biology, Gender, and Sexual Orientation,” “Urban Imaginings,” and “TV Nation: Television and Identity in America.” All staff are selected because their special interests and their training and experience in First-Year Writing Seminars promise original course design and superior performance.

Teaching Writing:

Each summer and fall, the institute offers instruction in the teaching of writing to new staff members in the First-Year Writing Seminars and other interested instructors. Teaching Writing, offered in the summer or fall, is primarily a course for graduate students. The program also sponsors a summer apprenticeship program for a limited number of graduate students, and a summer seminar for faculty members interested in the teaching of writing.

Writing in the Majors:

Spanning the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, the Knight Institute’s upper-level, Writing in the Majors courses do not satisfy formal writing requirements, and faculty participation is entirely voluntary. While all Writing in the Majors courses include extensive writing, usually with guided revision, they also emphasize other forms of active, interactive learning essential to scholarship and careers in the disciplines. Writing in the Majors initiatives have included individual and collaborative research projects, collaborative writing, oral presentations, group oral exams, field studies, authentic student-designed laboratory experiments, debates, analytical and critical reading exercises, topical symposia, conversation groups, student-led discussions, poster sessions, and many kinds of informal writing, including online exchanges. Varying radically in design and size, from enrollments of fewer than 10 students to more than 300, Writing in the Majors courses over the past 20 years have involved collaboration with 175 faculty members and more than 350 graduate teaching assistants to enrich learning in 101 upper-level courses offered in 34 departments. Since 2007–2008, the Knight Institute has substantially increased the number of Writing in the Majors courses offered at the 2000-level. These courses are intended to provide students who are still in the early stages of their academic careers with opportunities to engage with disciplinary subject matter through writing.

Writing Workshop:

The John S. Knight Institute offers a First-Year Writing Seminar, “An Introduction to Writing in the University,” for first-year students (or transfer students needing writing credit) through the Writing Workshop. This course is designed for students who have had little training in composition or who have serious difficulty with writing assignments.

WRIT 1370  and WRIT 1380  are graded S–U only, and students receiving a grade of S are granted credit toward their college writing requirements. Students who think this course might be appropriate including non-native speakers of English scoring less than 600 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) should attend the assessment sessions offered by the Writing Workshop during orientation week each fall. The workshop also offers a Walk-In Service (see below) to help students work on writing assignments. The workshop director is Joe Martin, senior lecturer in the Writing Workshop. The workshop offices are in 174 Rockefeller Hall, (607) 255-6349.

The Writing Walk-In Service:

Through the Writing Walk-In Service, the Writing Workshop offers tutoring assistance in writing to any student who needs help with a writing project. The Writing Walk-In Service has tutors available during the academic year in 174 Rockefeller Hall and North and West Campus residential areas. The director is Tracy Hamler Carrick. For information, contact the Writing Workshop, 174 Rockefeller Hall, (607) 255–6349.

Courses in Community Literacy:

Writing outreach has become an increasingly important feature of writing programs on various campuses. Cornell’s rich opportunities in service learning are formed on the assumption that learning by doing has a valid place in a university curriculum; they include volunteer activities and for-credit courses that span colleges and departments, as well as a concentration in Public Service Scholarship, which is sponsored by the Public Service Center. The courses listed below all concern writing as an interaction with community members outside Cornell, in the form of oral interviews, mentoring, or other collaborative work. For other writing courses with outreach components, see the First-Year Writing Seminar WRIT 1400 Common Ground: Cornell and Ithaca Students in Collaboration and ENGL 2890 , specifically the section on Fieldwriting: Telling Community Stories. For opportunities to receive training and practice as a writing tutor working with Cornell undergrads, contact Tracy Hamler Carrick, director of the Writing Walk-In Service.