A Marlboro education requires you to think independently and communicate clearly. Regardless of what discipline you choose for your Plan, you will have to produce a written component that presents your ideas and research in clear, well-argued prose. At Marlboro, both before and during Plan, you will be expected to write a lot, often wrestling with new and complex ideas in your papers.
The Clear Writing Requirement exists in order to help you develop your writing skills and bring them to Plan level. The writing classes and the portfolio are not merely academic hurdles for you to clear as soon as possible; they are an integral part of your college education.
The Clear Writing program consists of a series of steps. When you first arrive at Marlboro, your writing will be evaluated, and you will develop your current skills through instruction and practice. When you submit a portfolio at the end of your first or second semester, your writing will be re-evaluated by the faculty, who will then determine if you are approaching the level of sophistication needed to succeed on Plan.
You have three semesters to meet the Clear Writing Requirement. Even after you pass, however, you are not "done" with writing. Marlboro asks its students to work on their writing each semester, continually developing their skills to match their increasing intellectual sophistication.
The English Committee manages the Clear Writing program and oversees the Clear Writing Requirement. The English Committee is composed of all the writing instructors, along with four other faculty members, one from each area of the curriculum. Members of the Committee read placement exams and portfolios, and make policies for the Clear Writing program.
The Writing Requirement is not the special province of a "writing department." While there are specialized writing instructors, everyone who teaches at Marlboro is committed to helping you develop your writing skills and produce a well-written Plan.
One of the first things you will do when you arrive at Marlboro is take a writing placement exam. The exam usually consists of two questions, one asking you to write personally, the other calling for a more "academic" response. You will write your responses with all the other incoming students during a two-hour exam. The English Committee, along with other members of the faculty, will then read your exam.
The evaluation you receive from the English Committee will take the form of a "caret." Carets are only a kind of shorthand, offering a suggestion for the writing class you will probably find helpful. Remember that carets are not final designations or absolute interpretations of your writing skills. When members of the English Committee read your exam, they are not trying to judge you or your intelligence. They are merely offering suggestions and guiding you through the first steps of the writing program.
Your advisor will give you the results of your placement exam, helping you to interpret the evaluation and pick a writing class that meets your needs. After youíve worked out your schedule with your advisor, you will sign a Clear Writing Requirement Contract. The Contract is important: it represents your commitment to work through all the steps of the Clear Writing program. By signing it, you enter a written agreement with your advisor and the rest of the faculty to continue developing your skills and enrolling in writing classes until your prose reaches Plan level.
Writing Seminars are courses designed for students who need to work intensively on their reading and writing skills in order to meet the Requirement. While there is a direct focus on writing in Writing Seminars, the courses are not in any way "remedial." All Writing Seminars focus on a theme or a subject; they are designed to be interesting and challenging courses in their own right. In fact, many students who have already passed the Writing Requirement still take them.
Designated Writing Courses are regular courses taught by all members of the faculty in a variety of disciplines -- there are DWCs in the sciences, arts, social sciences, and humanities. In a DWC, you will write at least 20 pages during the semester, usually in the form of several short papers. The instructors of these courses will be available to help you with any weaknesses in your writing. Unlike Writing Seminars, however, DWCs do not include discussions of writing and do not generally provide consistent focus on revision and development of individual papers.
Elements of a Style is a 3 or 4-credit course that focuses on grammar and style. The course is designed for students who already have a grasp of the basic elements of argument and structure but who need to work further on style. Students taking Elements of Style may also take a Designated Writing Course in the same semester. Students who need to work intensively on their writing should not use Elements as a substitute for a Writing Seminar. Students who are already comfortable with the fundamentals of writing, though, may take Elements for 4 credits instead of taking a DWC .
Writing Links are 4-credit courses that are linked to other courses in the curriculum, usually Designated Writing Courses. Students in Writing Links draw the content of their papers from the "linked" courses; in the writing link itself, they work intensively on the writing of those papers. Students who contract for a Writing Seminar may fulfill the contract by taking a Writing Link, along with an associated Designated Writing Course. Students taking Writing Links may also take Elements or a second Designated Writing Course during the same semester.
If you come to Marlboro as a freshman or sophomore. . .
Incoming freshmen and sophomores are required to submit a writing portfolio by the end of their second semester at Marlboro. The portfolio consists of 20 pages of expository writing assigned in a Marlboro class. (For a detailed description of the portfolio, see What, exactly, do I submit? below.)
You are encouraged to submit a writing portfolio at the end of your first semester. If you pass, you have fulfilled the Clear Writing Requirement and do not need to submit again. If you do not pass, you will have more information about your writing skills and a good idea of what to do in your second semester. Perhaps, at the end of your first semester, you will be very close to passing but not quite there -- or perhaps you will still have work to do. Submitting a portfolio can give you this information; so, even if you donít pass, submitting in the first semester can be a very helpful step in fulfilling the Clear Writing Requirement.
If you are a transfer junior or seniorÖ
If you transfer to Marlboro as a junior or senior, you follow the same basic program as all other students: you have three semesters to fulfill the Clear Writing Requirement. However, unlike freshmen and sophomores, you are required to submit a portfolio at the end of your first semester since, unlike freshmen and sophomores, you are already on Plan.
Transfer juniors and seniors can still get up to three semesters to pass the Requirement -- but if you reach Senior 2 status and still have not met the Clear Writing Requirement, you will not be permitted to work further on your Plan until you pass.
It is very important to submit a portfolio that complies with the following guidelines, since any that does not will be disqualified. If your portfolio is "disqualified," it is not read by the English Committee or other members of the faculty. Obviously, this means that a disqualified portfolio has no chance of passing.
Notes on the research paper
When preparing your research paper, keep in mind that, like the other pieces in your portfolio, it should be an essay with a thesis statement, argument and structure. It is easy to get buried in research and produce a paper that merely regurgitates or consolidates all the different sources you consulted. However, the portfolio readers want to see your ability to go beyond research, to take the ideas of others and then use those to support your own argument. You should use research as background, support, even a starting place, but your paper should not repeat or rely on what has already been said. Marlboro's writing classes usually focus on research, but you might also consult Wayne Boothís The Craft of Research (in the bookstore and the library) for advice on how to compile research while still structuring an essay that is based on your ideas.
To help you master all the technicalities of documentation, Marlboro has compiled a style guide: Handling Sources. Turn to Handling Sources first when you have questions about documentation. It is written by Marlboro faculty members and is geared specifically toward helping Marlboro students with their papers and Plans. Handling Sources is based on The Chicago Manual of Style and is easy to access on campus: itís online, in the bookstore, in the library. If you have a question that is not covered by Handling Sources, try The Chicago Manual of Style or Kate Turabianís A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.
∑† To help you picture this, take a look at the sample title page at the end of the Survival Guide.
Your portfolio will be read by members of the English Committee and other members of the faculty. Since your writing should be able to stand on its own and make sense to an intelligent reader in any field, the instructor for whose class you wrote the paper will not read your portfolio. At least two readers must agree on their assessment of your portfolio: if the first two readers differ, a third reader will serve as arbiter.
If your portfolio meets all the guidelines listed above, two faculty members will read it and fill out a "Portfolio Review Sheet," a score-sheet. (A copy of the score-sheet is attached to this guide.) Your readers will give your portfolio a score from 1 to 4. Your score will be based on four criteria:
Concept addresses the strength and clarity of the paper overall. Is the paperís topic clearly laid out? Have you introduced the reader to the questions about that topic that the paper is trying to answer? Are your answers to those questions clear? Is the main argument of the paper worth making, or does it seem simplistic? (That is, are you arguing that the sky is blue or that water is wet?)
Analysis addresses how well youíve developed and supported your paper. Does the paper make the reader feel that you really know your topic and your sources? Have you followed your analysis of the topic as far as it could go, or have you left your reader saying, "Well, thatís true, but what about this?" Have you shown your readers how you arrived at your position, or have you simply told them? Are your assertions backed up with references (in the form of quotations, paraphrases, or summaries) to your sources? When you quote a source, do you interpret the quotation -- or do you leave it sitting there, hoping it will speak for itself? Portfolio readers will also ask how well youíve structured your paper. Does your paper follow a clear and logical progression from idea to idea? Does your paper address all the ideas you bring up in its introduction? Does your paper conclude, or does it just stop?
Style addresses how the paper sounds. Does the paperís introduction really introduce the paper, or does it just spin its wheels? Do parts of the paper strike the reader as superfluous, as "dead wood"? Does the paper often rely on the passive voice? Does the paper use the right words at the right time, or does it seem "thesaurusized"? Does the paper seem wordy, or is its tone overly weighty, to the readers?
Nuts and Bolts
The "nuts and bolts" of writing address how well the paper is presented and documented, how it looks and reads. Does the paper exhibit consistent grammatical or mechanical mistakes (e.g., sentence fragments, clumsy syntax, shifts in tense, incorrect punctuation or spelling)? Are your readers stopped by sentences they either donít understand or have to spend time figuring out? Are your sources clearly and accurately documented in both the footnotes and bibliography? Does the paper make the reader feel that you are paying attention to details, or that youíve rushed to print without reading the paper yourself?
When you get your portfolio back, it will have a number score, ranging from 1 to 4.
If your final score is a 1
You need to work intensively on your writing. Both the original papers and the revised papers show serious inability to communicate clearly in writing. The level of discourse is lowered by repeated sentence-level errors and the organization is very weak.
If your final score is a 1.5
You need to continue working seriously on your writing. The original papers show severe sentence-level and organizational problems, although the revised papers show some improvement.
If your final score is a 2
Your writing is consistently weak, but the basic problems are addressed in revisions, and the number of problems diminishes as the semester progresses. You have made progress during the semester, but you still need to work closely with a writing instructor.
If your final score is a 2.5
Your writing is almost to passing level. Your level of discourse is adequate for simple topics and your research is competent. Your original papers, however, still suggest that you are reliant on help from an instructor.
If your final score is a 3
You have passed the Clear Writing Requirement. The general level of discourse is adequate, and technical mistakes are relatively few. While you still have work to do, you can produce acceptable freshman/sophomore-level writing. Freshman/sophomore writing, however, is a long way from acceptable senior writing; you need to continue working with your advisor and professors to improve your writing skills for Plan.
If your final score is a 3.5
Your writing is approaching Plan level. You tackle sophisticated topics successfully, incorporate research into your writing without awkwardness, and present a solid argument.
If your final score is a 4
You have reached Plan-level writing. Your papers contain few technical errors, true strength and clarity of thought, good organization, and a readable style, appropriate to the discipline in which you are writing.
For all students except transfer juniors and seniors the submission in the first semester is optional. If you submit a portfolio and you do not pass, talk with your advisor and look over your writing contract. In the following semester, take your backup writing course.
All students who have not yet passed the Writing Requirement must submit a portfolio at the end of their second semester. If you do not pass at the end of your second semester, there is again no "penalty" -- but you should talk with your advisor and seriously consider what to do in the third semester, since you only have one more try to pass the Writing Requirement.
If you submit at the end of your third semester and do not pass, you will be discontinued.
If you do not submit a portfolio at the end of your second semester, or if you submit a portfolio and it is disqualified, you will be automatically discontinued. There are no exceptions to the rule.
If you do not pass at the end of your second semester, and then you do not submit in the third semester, or if you submit a portfolio and it is disqualified, you will be automatically discontinued.
Transfer juniors and seniors who do not submit a portfolio at the end of their first semester will be subject to discontinuance.
If you become subject to English Discontinuance, you will be asked to leave Marlboro for a period of three months and work on your writing elsewhere. English Discontinuance is not necessarily the end of your Marlboro career. The Clear Writing Requirement is not designed to send students home; it is designed to make sure they have the skills they need to stay.
If you are discontinued, you must spend three months working on your writing and then submit 10 pages of writing to the English Committee. (See the copy of the "Contract for Reinstatement" at the end of this guide.) If these 10 pages are of "pass" quality, then you must take an on-campus writing exam (to make sure that the writing you submit is yours). After that, you resume study as a Marlboro student and submit a regular 20-page portfolio at the end of the semester. Under no circumstances can you re-use the 10 reinstatement pages for your 20-page portfolio.
You have up to 2 years to submit these 10 pages. After that, you will have moved from English Discontinuance to dismissal from Marlboro College. If you are dismissed, you will have to reapply to the school if you want to return.
There are many people at Marlboro who can help you through the Writing Requirement. Your academic advisor, the office of the Dean of Students, and the Learning Resources Center can provide support, advice, and information. Most importantly, the writing instructors themselves can meet with you to explain all the details of writing classes, portfolios, submissions, scores, and extensions.
Marlboro employs a number of student writing tutors to provide you with extra help in your writing classes and on your writing portfolio. Student tutors have been trained by the writing instructors and can assist you with every step of the writing process, from brainstorming and outlining to final polishing. Additionally, student tutors generally have fewer restrictions on their time; they can meet with you when your professors canít: on evenings, weekends, and more than once or twice a week. A schedule of tutor hours is always posted on the door of the Writer's Block, in Science 113.
If you would like more information about the Clear Writing Requirement, past writing courses at Marlboro, or the writing instructors, visit Marlboroís website, which maintains a "Clear Writing and Writing References" page: http://www.marlboro.edu/~jsheehy/writing/