Outcomes Statements for First-Year Writing

[Adapted from the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition (v3.0)

(adopted by the  Council of Writing Program Administrators, 17 July 2014)]


This Statement identifies outcomes for first-year composition programs in U.S. postsecondary education. It describes the writing knowledge, practices, and attitudes that undergraduate students develop in first-year composition, which at most schools is a required general education course or sequence of courses. This Statement therefore attempts to both represent and regularize writing programs’ priorities for first-year composition, which often takes the form of one or more required general education courses. To this end it is not merely a compilation or summary of what currently takes place. Rather, this Statement articulates what composition teachers nationwide have learned from practice, research, and theory.[1] It intentionally defines only “outcomes,” or types of results, and not “standards,” or precise levels of achievement. The setting of standards to measure students’ achievement of these Outcomes has deliberately been left to local writing programs and their institutions.

In this Statement “composing” refers broadly to complex writing processes that are increasingly reliant on the use of digital technologies. Writers also attend to elements of design, incorporating images and graphical elements into texts intended for screens as well as printed pages. Writers’ composing activities have always been shaped by the technologies available to them, and digital technologies are changing writers’ relationships to their texts and audiences in evolving ways.

These outcomes are supported by a large body of research demonstrating that the process of learning to write in any medium is complex: it is both individual and social and demands continued practice and informed guidance. Programmatic decisions about helping students demonstrate these outcomes should be informed by an understanding of this research.

Rhetorical Knowledge

Rhetorical knowledge is the ability to analyze contexts and audiences and then to act on that analysis in comprehending and creating texts.  Rhetorical knowledge is the basis of composing. Writers develop rhetorical knowledge by negotiating purpose, audience, context, and conventions as they compose a variety of texts for different situations.  

By the end of their experience in the First-Year Writing Program, students should

  • Learn and use key rhetorical and literary concepts through analyzing a variety of texts, both nonfiction and fiction, and composing in a variety of essay and research genres
  • Gain experience reading in several genres (both nonfiction and fiction) and composing in several genres to understand how genre conventions shape and are shaped by readers’ and writers’ practices and purposes.
  • Develop facility in responding to a variety of situations and contexts calling for purposeful shifts in voice, tone, level of formality, design, medium, and/or structure
  • Understand and use a variety of technologies to address a range of audiences
  • Match the capacities of different environments (e.g., print and electronic) to varying rhetorical situations

Faculty can build on this preparation by helping students learn

  • The expectations of readers
  • The main features of genres
  • The main purposes of composing

Critical Thinking, Reading, and Composing

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, synthesize, interpret, and evaluate ideas, information, situations, and texts. When writers think critically about the materials they use–whether print texts, photographs, data sets, videos, or other materials–they separate assertion from evidence, evaluate sources and evidence, recognize and evaluate underlying assumptions, read across texts for connections and patterns, identify and evaluate chains of reasoning, and compose appropriately qualified and developed claims and generalizations. These practices are foundational for advanced academic writing.

By the end of their experience in the First-Year Writing Program, students should

  • Use composing and reading for inquiry, learning, critical thinking, and communicating in various rhetorical contexts
  • Read a diverse range of texts, including nonfiction and fiction, attending especially to relationships between assertion and evidence; to patterns of organization; to the interplay between verbal, nonverbal, and literary elements; and to how these features function for different audiences and situations
  • Locate and evaluate (for credibility, sufficiency, accuracy, timeliness, bias, and so on) primary and secondary research materials, including journal articles and essays, books, scholarly and professionally established and maintained databases or archives, and informal electronic networks and internet sources
  • Use strategies–such as interpretation, synthesis, response, critique, and design/redesign–to compose texts that integrate the writer’s ideas with those from appropriate sources

Faculty can build on this preparation by helping students learn

  • About engaging in critical thinking
  • About developing questions, problems, and evidence
  • About developing strategies for reading a range of texts


Writers use multiple strategies, or composing processes, to conceptualize, develop, and finalize projects.  Composing processes are seldom linear: a writer may research a topic before drafting, then conduct additional research while revising or after consulting a colleague. Composing processes are also flexible: successful writers can adapt their composing processes to different contexts and occasions.

By the end of their experience in the First-Year Writing Program, students should

  • Develop a writing project through multiple drafts, focusing on creating a thesis that is part of a coherent extended argument
  • Develop flexible strategies for reading, drafting, reviewing, collaborating, revising, rewriting, rereading, and editing
  • Use composing processes and tools as a means to discover and reconsider ideas
  • Experience the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes
  • Learn to give and to act on productive feedback to works in progress
  • Adapt composing processes for a variety of technologies and modalities
  • Reflect on the development of composing practices and how those practices influence their work

Faculty can build on this preparation by helping students learn

  • To employ methods and technologies commonly used for research and communication
  • To review work-in-progress for the purpose of developing ideas before surface-level editing
  • To participate effectively in collaborative processes

Knowledge of Conventions

Conventions are the formal rules and informal guidelines that define genres, and in so doing, shape readers’ and writers’ perceptions of correctness or appropriateness. Most obviously, conventions govern such things as mechanics, usage, spelling, and citation practices. But they also influence content, style, organization, graphics, and document design.

KEEP THIS: Successful writers understand, analyze, and negotiate conventions for purpose, audience, and genre, understanding that genres evolve in response to changes in material conditions and composing technologies and attending carefully to emergent conventions.

By the end of their experience in the First-Year Writing Program, students should

  • Develop knowledge of linguistic structures, including grammar, punctuation, and spelling, through practice in composing and revising
  • Understand why disciplinary conventions for structure, paragraphing, tone, and mechanics vary
  • Gain experience negotiating variations in genre conventions
  • Learn common formats and/or design features for different kinds of texts, e.g., those governed by the Modern Language Association Handbook and other disciplinary style guides
  • Explore the concepts of intellectual property (such as fair use and copyright) that motivate documentation conventions
  • Practice applying citation conventions systematically in their own work

Faculty can build on this preparation by helping students learn

  • The reasons behind conventions of usage, specialized vocabulary, format, and citation systems
  • Strategies for controlling conventions
  • Factors that influence the ways work is designed, documented, and disseminated
  • Ways to make informed decisions about intellectual property issues connected to common genres and modalities

[1] This Statement is aligned with the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, an articulation of the skills and habits of mind essential for success in college, and is intended to help establish a continuum of valued practice from high school through to the college major.