Search WAC@CUHK :

YOU ARE HERE: Portal > Professors Main Page > FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions


1: What is Writing Across the Curriculum?
2: What type of approach does WAC@CUHK adopt?
3: What are the objectives of the WAC program at CUHK?
4: What are the reasons for emphasizing writing in the curriculum?
5: What are the four basic qualities in a piece of writing?
6: What should be in an assignment description?


1: What is Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)?

 WAC began as the 1960's British "language across the curriculum movement", but also describes attempts to broaden the scope of American university students’ writing in the late 1970s and early 1980s. WAC programs were usually initiated by English departments, with affiliating departments influencing their implementation.

 WAC works best across the disciplines―whether physics or anthropology or engineering―where students need to learn to think through and evaluate problems. When students are asked to write, they actively engage with the subject matter, seeing patterns, connecting ideas, and making meanings.


2: What type of approach to writing does WAC@CUHK adopt?

 In traditional “product-oriented” approaches, the instructor sees only the final paper submitted for marking; no opportunity is provided to revise the paper. Such an approach assumes that the student is sufficiently skilled in English writing to compose a paper independently.

 WAC@CUHK, on the other hand, uses a “process-oriented” approach, focusing on the process by which the written product is created rather than the product itself. The teaching assistants from WAC@CUHK intervene during the writing process, providing advice to the student writers on both style and grammatical features, so that the students can improve the final version of the paper. By reading the drafts and providing feedback to the students, the teaching assistants relieve the professors of this responsibility.

 WAC’s full-time teaching assistants all hold relevant postgraduate qualifications and have been trained to provide feedback on students' writing. The TAs attend lectures to become familiar with course content and will be available to the students to give them oral and written feedback on plans and early drafts of their written papers. If requested, the teaching assistants can also offer mini-workshops to your students on various topics relating to improving their writing.

All we ask of professors is an initial meeting with WAC and that they personally introduce WAC and the TA to their students.


3: What are the objectives of the WAC program at CUHK?

 The major objectives are to:


·        Identify suitable undergraduate courses for inclusion in the WAC@CUHK program,

·        Conduct workshops for teachers from the university,

·        Assist teachers to incorporate writing in their courses, and

·        Provide a model of implementation for the further expansion and dissemination of WAC programs in Hong Kong.


4: What are the reasons for emphasizing writing across the curriculum?


First, writing can help students to learn better; many research studies support this view[1]. Barbara Walvoord[2] states that “verbalization at the more conscious levels, including writing, probably helps the write to understand the thoughts that otherwise would remain inaccessible”. Research also suggests that “writing helps people to operate at a higher level of abstraction”[3]. Writing is somehow integrally involved in our learning process.

 Second, more writing results in improved student writing. Cooke[4] states that “we should dispel the erroneous notion that one semester or even one year of a university-level writing course will correct the serious deficiencies in students' writing. If writing is to become a natural and effective skill for them, they must be offered practice and instruction in a great variety of academic settings”. Many of the problems in students' writing arise from not having enough practice addressing them.


5: What are the basic qualities of a piece of writing?


The Writer Center at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (, lists these four qualities as:

 A. The quality of the content: the ideas, the perceptions, the point of view


·        Is the basic idea or insight a good one?

·        Is it supported by logical reasoning or valid argument?

·        Is it supported by evidence and examples?

·        Is it really saying something or is it just a collection of thoughts or observations (however unified and well written) sitting there limply? Did the writer communicate why this whole thing matters?

·        Is there too much abstraction or generalization? So few details, examples, and explanations that it ends up dull, empty, impossible to understand?

·        Is there too little abstraction and too much clutter of detail? Too little standing back for perspective?

·        Does it do what it says or implies it is going to do? Does it satisfy the issues it raises?

·        Is there a point of view or is the writing just disembodied statements from nowhere? Is that point of view unified and consistent?

·        Is the piece fitted to its audience? Has the writer understood their needs and point of view?


B. The organization


·        Is the whole thing unified? Is there one central idea to which everything pertains? Or is it pulling in two or three directions or full of loose ends and digressions?

·        Are the parts arranged in a coherent or logical sequence?

·        Is there a beginning? That is, does it start off in a way that allows you to get comfortably started?

·        Is there a middle? A body? Or does it turn around and say good-bye as soon as it is finished saying hello?

·        Is there an ending? Does it give you a sense of closure or completion?

·        Were the paragraphs really paragraphs? Could you tell what each one is saying? Does each one function as helpful and comfortable unit of thought?


C. The effectiveness of the language


·        Are the sentences clear and readable?

·        Are the words used correctly?

·        Is it succinct enough for the purpose and audience? Not too long, repetitious, dull?

·        Is it full enough? Is the language, even if correct, indigestible?

·        Does the diction, mood, or level of formality fit the audience and occasion?

·        Is the language alive, human, interesting? Either because of interesting metaphors or turns of phrase; or because of a voice or presence in the words?


D. The appropriate choices in usage


·        Are there mistakes in grammar, usage, spelling and typing?

·        Are there mistakes in footnotes, graphs, or other special effects?

·        Is it neat and easy to read on the page?



6: What should be included in a writing assignment given to students?


·        A description of the purpose of the assignment. “The paper will require you to review and evaluate the most recent publications on the Basic Law in Hong Kong."

·        A description of the intended audience for the paper. “Aim the paper at a professional audience who would be familiar with the field” or “Aim the paper to the type of person who would be reading Psychology Today.”

·        An indication of the level of sophistication of resources required. “Data for this paper should be drawn exclusively from primary sources.” This may require an explanation of the concepts of alternative data sources.

·        A minimum number of pages, rather than a maximum, recognizing that if they can't condense it down to a small number of pages, they haven't given the assignment sufficient thought;

·        Criteria for evaluation, including large issues such as content accuracy and persuasive documentation down to picky details such as what you expect in terms of font size, page format, etc.


In addition to making the assignment as clear as possible, there are some other steps that the instructor can take to avoid confusion and to help the students along:


·        Provide good and bad examples along with explanations for your evaluations. This helps the students get a feel for the assignment.

·        Discuss the assignment in class. After allowing time for the students to read the assignment, spend some time helping them to get started with it.

·        Schedule conferences with students, if possible, early in the writing sequence to head off any problems.


What is WAC?  |  History of WAC in Hong Kong  |  Resources  |  Writing Tips  |  Site Map  |  Contact us

Homepage of WAC Program - The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Copyright (C) 2004, all rights reserved.