Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
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FYW Students

Welcome to First-Year Writing at MSU (FYW)! Even if you’ve had some experience as a student of writing in high school, you may wonder what your college writing class will be like. You might be asking yourself: What can I expect from my WRA course?

A writing course (or two) in the first year is required at most colleges and universities, since learning how to use writing well is important in making the transition to the work of college. You might guess that college writing will involve more time, learning, and research than high school writing—and, yet not all college writing courses are the same, so it may be hard to predict what the experience will be like at MSU.

Here’s what a FYW class at MSU will not be:

  • a lecture class, in which you spend most of your time listening to your instructor deliver information.

  • a “grammar” class. We know using language effectively is important, but that’s only a small part of what writers need to learn and do.

  • a literature class. You can expect to read, certainly—but the reading you do will be for the purposes of making you a better writer.

  • a place to hide. Many classes you’ll take at MSU—especially in your first two years—are big enough that you may never get to know your instructor or classmates. First-year writing isn’t one of them. Classes are small, and you’ll spend much of your time working with others.

  • a “content” class, in which you’re tested for knowledge of subject matter. First-year writing is as much about what you can do as what you know—so your growth as a writer will be measured by the success of what you produce.

  • a “genre” class. You’ve likely never before created a “Cultural-Artifact Project” or a “Disciplinary Literacy Project.” That’s because there really is no “genre” of writing that neatly corresponds to these assignments. 

Perhaps the best way to describe FYW is to say that it’s a class about you. Not only because your experiences and prior knowledge are important in learning to write, but because FYW is a place where you can spend some time thinking about your plans for college (and life!)—reflecting on where you’ve been, what that means for where you are now, and how to imagine where you’re headed. The writing assignments you will pursue in your FYW class are designed to guide you to locate and investigate the knowledge you bring to your studies at MSU. In your FYW class--through acts of inquiry, discovery, and communication--your former experiences become the tools that will empower you to set informed goals for your continuing development as a student and professional.

You could say that FYW is a class that assumes that you’ll be a writer long after you finish your writing class. We assume that what you learn should serve in your college career and beyond, and that you’ll come away both with a better understanding of the kinds of writing you might do in the world, and with knowledge of what to do with a writing situation when you encounter it. We can’t (in 16 weeks) possibly predict or give you every writing experience that you are likely to have in your lifetime; however, we can help you learn writing strategies that travel, and equip you with answers to questions such as these:

  • How do I understand my purposes for writing?

  • How do I determine who my audience is, and what it expects or needs?

  • What are the best genres, and forms of language, to use for my purposes?

These are questions that you’ll need to address in your life as a writer, both in school and long after you graduate.

So, you ask, what happens in our writing classes? Writing, writing, and more writing. ALL of the writing you do in your FYW classes will be both important and useful. You will write to and for yourself, your classmates, your instructor, and others outside of your class. Your writing will surface in acts of

  • planning
  • proposing
  • reviewing
  • revising
  • presenting
  • reflecting
  • assessing
  • goal setting

FYW class are different from many other University classes, in that they are oriented to practice. Your FYW class will be smaller, more personal, more activity-oriented, and more collaborative than most of your other classes—your job as a student in it won’t be to listen to lectures and take notes, but to practice writing processes and strategies. You can expect to learn new things, and to be given space to do so.

Throughout your semester(s) in FYW at MSU, you will regularly engage in acts of inquiry, discovery, and communication. And you will learn to set your own, ongoing learning goals by way of a variety of informed reflective writing activities.