Frequently Asked Questions: Seminar in Composition
To excel in your academic career and beyond, you must develop sound writing, reading, and discussion skills. SC has been designed to help undergraduates who are beginning their work at the University become more engaged, imaginative, and disciplined composers. Your SC experiences will better equip you to handle complex subjects thoughtfully and to use sources responsibly. Even if you have already had considerable writing experience in high school, you will encounter new challenges in SC as a writer, reader, and thinker. Honors College sections are available for students with strong basic skills who are seeking a more intensive Seminar in Composition experience.
Seminar in Composition is a prerequisite for the two writing intensive (W) courses all Arts and Sciences students are required to take. You will take at least one of these courses in your major, but can select the other from the wide variety of W-courses offered in departments across Arts and Sciences. Seminar in Composition is also a prerequisite for advanced composition courses, including those offered in the Public and Professional Writing Program, as well as for all courses in the English majors.
Exemptions from SC are made infrequently and cautiously. Those scoring 600 or higher on the vert from the Seminar in Composition requirement and may enroll in W-courses.
Upper-level courses require greater proficiency in critical inquiry and writing technique. This proficiency depends not only on knowledge of basic grammar and punctuation, but also on familiarity with structural patterns that promote development of ideas and fluent handling of multiple sources. Because internalizing all this requires extended practice and well-developed habits of revision, most undergraduates can benefit from the writing opportunities SC provides. Students with strong basic skills who are seeking a more intensive Seminar in Composition experience should consider the Honors College sections.
To be prepared for SC, you must demonstrate the ability to compose reasonably correct prose and the organizational skills required to write a coherent essay of several well-developed paragraphs. SC requires familiarity with the basic conventions of edited written English, but does not assume you already have a full understanding of all the intricacies of grammar, punctuation, and organization.
Composition Tutorial (CT) provides additional support for SC students whose placement essays show difficulties with certain basic conventions of edited written English or with certain organizational skills integral to academic writing. If you are enrolled in CT, you will meet with a Writing Center consultant each week to work on sentence-and paragraph-level issues that arise in your writing for SC.
SC focuses on the process of composing the mature, thoughtful, and precise writing that is significant to all majors. Though your class may begin with twenty students, all of whom have had different high school writing instruction and experience and all of whom have different college and career plans, you will interact as a dynamic group of undergraduates engaged in significant intellectual work: composing well-crafted writing that sparks important thinking.
While the assignments of SC sections may vary widely (see Choosing A Section for further information), in general the course focuses on essay-writing, broadly defined. This does not mean that all assignments in any SC section will require formal or conventionally expository writing. SC focuses mainly on nonfiction writing, but not solely on composing conventionally defined or structured essays.
English Department faculty and graduate students with a wide range of teaching experience and interests teach SC. This diversity creates enriching opportunities for faculty collaboration and mentoring. No matter who is teaching your SC section, certain core goals and standards defined by the Composition Program will remain its central concern.
All SC sections require some critical writing about written texts, but the actual material assigned can vary widely. Some sections do include assignments about short stories, poetry, novels, or plays. Others focus on writing about nonfiction prose. Some sections include frequent opportunities for students to write about their own writing and that of other students. In addition to requiring writing about written texts, certain sections also provide opportunities to write about audio or visual material or about more direct life experiences.
The evaluation appropriate to SC must take into account both the writing you submit and your investment in the seminar’s work. Many SC sections ask students to discuss an assignment’s possibilities, compose notes or a draft, discuss that writing with classmates and/or receive an instructor’s comments, and then revise. SC does not require a standard exit exam or portfolio review. Your final grade will reflect your instructor’s judgment of the seriousness with which you have made both written and spoken contributions to the seminar and your progress with the SC essentials defined by the Composition Program.
Revision’s centrality to the work of SC does not lessen students’ responsibility to submit careful work for all assignments. With writing, as with any art, a careful first try at addressing a complex task can provide fertile basis for deeper inquiry, more resourceful experimentation with style, and more refined technique. Through the sustained attention to a writing project that revision makes possible, Seminar in Composition students can become more meticulous and perceptive critical readers of their own writing and develop the habits of inquiry essential to mature composing.
All SC sections require at least one crafted composition each week. The specific topics for this writing, as well as genre and length requirements, can vary considerably based on each instructor’s course design and teaching style. Nonetheless, all SC sections have in common certain core goals and standards defined by the Composition Program’s Curriculum Committee. The routes to these goals and standards may vary from section to section, but the fundamental destination remains the same.
The most current information about the instructors for various SC sections and the focus of each section’s assignments will soon be available on the Composition Program’s upcoming Course Particulars page.
The prominence of “seminar” in this course’s title emphasizes the significant role of discussion in all sections: there are no lecture sections of SC. As a seminar, each SC course should nurture critical conversation about composing and increase participants’ attention to the implications of the many choices writers make. Even though some class time may occasionally be set aside for brief lecture, discussion remains central to the work of all SC sections.
SC courses with a designated emphasis on film, gender studies, education, or service learning are appropriate for any student curious to explore that topic through writing, not just for those already planning some closely related major. Like all other SC sections, the subtitled courses share the goals and standards defined by the Composition Program’s Curriculum Committee. Though the writing assignments in subtitled courses involve film, gender, education, or service learning, students’ improvement as writers and readers will remain the central concern.
Freshman Seminars are themed composition courses taught in conjunction with Introduction to Arts and Sciences. This 4-credit unit allows students to fulfill the SC requirement while also learning about the University, reflecting on distinctions between high school and college, and exploring some of the cultural events on campus and within Pittsburgh's distinctive neighborhoods. Freshman Seminar themes vary from year to year. Past courses have focused on topics such as science, education, religion, and Native America.
Sections meeting only once a week require concentration on critical conversation about writing for an extended class period as well as the motivation to maintain a disciplined work schedule without the support of more frequent classes. A firm commitment to staying “on task” without regular class contact two or three times a week will increase your ability to prosper in this one-class-a-week environment.
Help and Support
The Composition Program considers support a high priority and encourages you to seek guidance outside the classroom. In addition to meeting with your instructor during regular office hours, you can make appointments at other times, as schedules allow. Consultants are also available at the Writing Center to provide individual assistance with any aspect of writing. Although Writing Center consultants will not edit your work, they can help you strengthen your writing by focusing on specific questions and concerns; by reviewing conventions for grammar and punctuation as well as options for structure and analysis; and by teaching valuable self-editing techniques.
If your native language is not English, two support options are available: taking ESL Workshop in Composition (ENGCMP 0152) before Seminar in Composition or taking SC while also meeting regularly with an ESL-trained consultant at the Writing Center. Based on your placement essay, an advisor will recommend the appropriate option.
If you have a disability likely to affect your work for SC, you should consult the Disabilities Resources and Services Office (DRS) before beginning the course. The staff can help you document eligibility for disability services and determine reasonable accommodations for a particular course, such as extended due dates for writing assignments, sign language interpreters for classes, and weekly support meetings. When classes begin, you should also let your instructor know what challenges you face and what support you have arranged. The DRS staff will provide a Notification of Disability Memo for you to deliver to your instructor.