Writing in English

The English Program offers a bachelor’s degree in English with optional emphases in multicultural literature, creative writing, and English education. We also offer writing intensive courses to students from across the campus, including first year composition, upper division interdisciplinary courses, a minor in English, and a technical writing certificate—all open to students in any discipline.

Students completing coursework in English will find that writing in this program is intensive, emphasizing analytical reading and critical thinking, drafting and revision, collaboration, analysis and synthesis of scholarly research, student engagement, attention to detail, and awareness of purpose and audience. Additionally, we have found that the most successful students are those who cultivate an openness to diverse perspectives and teaching methods among faculty, display a sense of humor and willingness to take risks as a writer and thinker, and develop a sense of intellectual curiosity and willingness to investigate coursework beyond the material presented by the instructor.

Types of Writing

While there are a variety of writing genres assigned in the English program, here are several that you are likely to encounter:

Literary Analysis – A literary analysis essay is your interpretation written in the form of an argument that you make about one or more original text(s), author(s), theories, and/or historical or political context(s). In this kind of writing, you typically avoid extensive summary (assume the reader has read the work and just needs a reminder of particulars). Also avoid offering extensive personal comments on what you liked or didn’t like. Instead, analyze and interpret what you see, and connect where relevant to other texts, authors, or theories. Consider other voices you have read that might offer a different perspective on your interpretation. As you go along, offer evidence, direct or paraphrased, for your points. Use your conclusion to consider why your argument matters.

Research Paper -- A research paper is typically the product of a larger process in which you identify a topic of interest; narrow or expand the topic appropriately; locate, evaluate, and select appropriate sources; read the sources carefully; and compose an analysis in which you present what you have learned about your topic from your sources. Your choice of topic and sources are integral to the success of your paper, like using good ingredients in a recipe. So, while you might use Wikipedia and Google to gather information about your topic, avoid using them as your final sources. Instead, look for peer-reviewed articles, books, and quality websites. Remember to think critically about your sources – you are not simply summarizing what they all say, but rather analyzing the information to develop an understanding or flesh out an argument. Citation formats are especially critical here, so make sure that you allow enough time to cite properly. See below for help with citation formats.

Group (Collaborative) Projects or Presentations – Group projects mimic real world writing situations, in which teams work together to produce complete documents. These tend to be among the most popular and most feared assignments, because they require students to rely on other people to complete a final product. We have found that communication and time management are critical to successful group projects. Choose your group carefully—often, the more successful group may not include your close friends—and make sure you are providing helpful input into group decisions. Often it helps a group to have someone make a list or table of ideas on the white board or a piece of paper. Communicate back to your professor as needed, and especially when problems come up. Keep track of the tasks everyone is assigned to do, and schedule more meetings than you think you will need; collaborative papers almost always take more time than individual ones. Ask for a CI Learn space to “meet” electronically so that you can begin writing early and posting your ideas for one another.

Creative Fiction or Non-Fiction – Fictional or non-fictional narratives provide students with the opportunity to use dialogue, description, plot, point of view, characterization, language, and imagery in the service of telling a story. Even if you are new to this genre, we encourage you to try your hand at it. You will have many resources available to you as you write and revise this work, including coursework and peer and professor feedback. Asking questions of your readers and listening carefully to their feedback will help you significantly. Be prepared for most of the “work” of writing narrative to happen during the revision process—consequently, most of your learning will happen there too. Journal Responses – Professors in English may assign journal responses as a way to encourage students to engage with the course material. Rather than passively reading, journaling encourages you to question, problematize, connect, summarize—to prepare for class assignments and discussions. Because there are many different kinds of journals, make sure you ask questions to understand how your professor is using yours. For example, some journals are completed on CI Learn and will be made public to others in your class. Try to schedule time for your journaling on a regular basis; waiting until the last minute to fill in pages and pages of entries is frustrating and counterproductive to learning. Also, keep it academic in tone; most journals are not intended to be diaries or daily records. Make sure to put a heading and date on each page so your professor can grade it easily.

Oral Presentations – In English classes you may be asked to present material to the class orally. The purpose is both to expose students in the class to more readings and points of view than they could absorb on their own, and to enable students to practice public speaking. For both reasons, in oral presentations it’s especially important to clearly and accurately convey the main points of the piece(s) you have read—or whatever material you’ve been asked to present. When problems occur, they are often in the areas of organization and time management. Outlining your points ahead of time and practicing in front of friends or family will significantly improve the quality of your talk. Make sure to proofread your handouts and/or PowerPoint slides carefully so that they look professional. Some suggestions for effective PowerPoint presentations are available here; be sure to look at the additional recommended sites at the bottom of the page for more pointers.

Poster Presentations – Although English courses do not tend to use posters as often as in some other disciplines, they may come up—especially in Capstone courses—as a way to display your learning for an audience. Your professor will help you consider expectations for your poster. The ATS Multimedia Site has a helpful  for poster development.

Technical writing - Most writing in the professional context (email, memos, proposals, marketing brochures, user manuals, etc) falls under the umbrella of technical writing. At heart, it is translation work: you must take specialized source material (engineering specs, for example), and present this appropriately to the audience (a business client without an engineering background). This requires dexterity in both technical expertise and the written language. To be successful, students will need to work together to produce writing that is easily and quickly understood by the target audience.


Students will discover that all college-level English courses move well beyond the five-paragraph essay format they may have been taught in high school.

While grammar, spelling, and syntax are important elements of successful writing, college-level English courses are concerned first and foremost with higher-level matters such as organization, development, and support.

All writing in English is expected to be professional and readable, conveying attention to and respect for the reader (including the instructor and fellow students). Students will learn that decisions about document design (including font selection and size, margins, font color, and so forth) play a role in how the texts they generate are received by their readers.

Becoming a good editor of your own work is essential in this program and beyond. This site has some good suggestions for how to do so.

Students will also learn that citation and documentation formats are determined by each writing task. Regardless of which citation format is being used (MLA, APA, etc.), it is essential that you use it consistently. Haphazard and/or inconsistent formatting often conveys a lack of attention to other aspects of a writing assignment; close attention to detail is essential to a successful paper.

Suggested Resources

University Writing and Multiliteracy Center: The Writing Center supports students at any stage of the writing process, including interpreting an assignment sheet or writing prompt; brainstorming, organizing and developing ideas; drafting, editing, and polishing an essay; and integrating and documenting sources. Call or email to schedule an appointment: writing.tutors@csuci.edu or 805-437- 8409. Additional resources can be found on the Writing Center site.

Broome Library: our campus library offers an array of services and resources that can help students succeed in English courses. Students can visit the Library website or consult the reference desk to learn more.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): this digital writing center offers a variety of student-friendly materials on research and documentation, common writing assignments, grammar, mechanics, and so forth.

Advice about successful writing within the English Program at CI

Composition Program

Students in the Composition Program will not typically write about literature (novels, poetry, drama, etc.). Rather, the primary focus in composition courses is on expository, analytical, reflective, and research-based writing. To fulfill their First Year Writing Requirement, students can choose between the two-semester Stretch-Composition sequence (ENGL 102-103) or the intensive, one-semester writing course, Composition and Rhetoric I (ENGL 105).

If you need help in deciding which composition course to take, see the Directed Self Placement area on the Composition Website.

What to expect in the Composition Program

In the Composition Program, all student writing is portfolio-based. Students have the entire semester to draft, revise, edit, and receive extensive feedback from peers, their instructor, and Writing Center tutors. At the end of the semester, students submit their strongest essays in a portfolio that is scored holistically by the composition faculty. A classroom teacher does not score his or her students portfolios. Rather, all portfolio are blind-scored by other members of the composition team. All portfolios are assessed using the same scoring criteria.

Because student writing in the Composition Program is not graded until the end of the semester, students are expected to follow strict deadlines for submitting drafts over the course of the term. Consistent attendance is crucial in making sure students give and receive the feedback they need to revise and edit their work. Instructor feedback will come in the form of face-to-face conferences (both during and outside of class) rather than in written remarks on a student paper. Oral feedback is not only more effective and productive for students but also helps them become critical readers of their own writing.

Composition courses emphasize collaborative learning and often include collaborative research and writing as well. Students in composition classes learn as much from their peers as they do from their instructor. Students are expected to read and respond to one another’s work with a thoughtful, critical, and respectful eye. Each composition classroom becomes its own learning community and is thus dependent on the active and full engagement of each member of that community.

Students in composition courses learn methods to help them read like writers. This includes learning effective strategies for approaching scholarly articles. Students will also learn how to use academic databases for finding scholarly (peer- reviewed) articles on a given research topic.

Additionally, students will be taught practical methods for analyzing and evaluating difficult texts and for integrating those texts into their own writing.

Upon successful completion of composition coursework at CI, students will achieve the following learning outcomes:

  • Critical Thinking: an ability to analyze written work, to frame conclusions from a range of information, and to predict outcomes based on known information.
  • Research Skills: a familiarity with CI library resources and major databases; a proficiency in basic computing skills; and an ability to discern valid research conclusions and to design, conduct and defend a research project.

For additional information on the Composition Program, visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/CIDSP, follow our Twitter feed at twitter.com/CIDSP, or contact the Composition Coordinator, Dr. Stacey Anderson, at stacey.anderson@csuci.edu.

What to Expect in the English B.A. Program

Students in the English BA Program should keep electronic versions of all their work in a safe place. The semester prior to graduation, students submit a portfolio that demonstrates that they have met the outcomes for the program. Faculty members use your portfolio to gauge how ready you are for Capstone, to help you begin thinking of topics for your Capstone project, and to help us assess the program. Requirements and deadlines for the portfolio are available on the English website.

When we assess our program, we look to see if students have met our learning goals, all of which include writing:

English program graduates will be able to:

  • Express themselves effectively in writing and speech, including appropriate use of English grammar and usage conventions.
  • Examine texts, issues, or problems in the disciplines from multiple perspectives (multicultural, interdisciplinary, international, experiential, theoretical and/or educational).
  • Effectively use current scholarship in the field.
  • Analyze a range of texts, representative genre(s), periods, ethnicities and genders.
  • Articulate an understanding of relationships between the field of English and other disciplines.
  • Reflect substantively on their growth over time with an accurate perception of their performance in the program.