First-Year Composition Outcomes


This statement describes common knowledge, skills and attitudes we seek in our first-year composition program in both online and traditional writing classrooms; that is we seek to outline the programmatic expectations for English 103/203/204. The following statement articulates what composition teachers have learned from practice, research and theory. This document defines “outcomes” or types of results and should be used in conjunction with appropriate rubrics to measure levels of achievement.

Learning to write is a complex process, both individual and social, that takes place over time with continued practice and informed guidance. Therefore, it is important that teachers, administrators, and concerned public do not imagine that these outcomes can be taught or reduced in simple ways. Helping students demonstrate these outcomes requires expert understanding of how students learn to write. For this reason, we expect the primary audience for this document to be well-prepared college writing teachers and college writing program administrators. Among such readers, terms such as “rhetorical” and “genre” convey a rich meaning that is not easily simplified. While we have also aimed at writing a document that the general public can understand, in limited cases we have aimed first at communicating effectively with expert writing teachers and writing-program administrators.

These statements describe only what we expect to find at the end of first-year composition at NIU. As writers move beyond first-year composition, their writing abilities should be challenged not only to diversify along disciplinary and professional lines but also to move into new levels where outcomes expand, multiply and diverge. For this reason, this statement encourages WAC to build on these outcomes.

NIU’S Outcomes for English 103/203/204:

Rhetorical Knowledge

Students should be able to

  • Establish a clear purpose for writing
  • Identify and respond to the needs of different audiences
  • Respond effectively to different kinds of rhetorical situations
  • Use conventions of format and structure appropriate to the rhetorical situation
  • Adopt voice, tone and level of formality appropriate to the rhetorical situation
  • Reflect on their own progress with regards to the above

Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing

Students should be able to

  • Use writing and reading for inquiry, critical thinking and communicating
  • Recognize and write in a variety of genres, such as narration, argument, analysis, synthesis and research
  • Invent, articulate, and understand their own ideas as they relate to those of others
  • Question or analyze the rhetorical appeals of written, graphic or multi-media discourse
  • Recognize the relationships among language, knowledge and power


Students should be able to:

  • Understand that polished texts require multiple drafts for creation, development and revision
  • Develop strategies for generating, revising, editing and proofreading texts
  • Practice writing as an recursive process, that is, an ongoing process that allows writers to later invent and rethink as they revise their work
  • Develop strategies for conducting efficient research
  • Employ the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes, i.e., learn to balance the advantages of relying on others with the responsibility of doing their part
  • Use appropriate technologies for each stage of the writing process
  • Assemble a portfolio as a demonstration of the writing process

Knowledge of Conventions

Students should be able to:

  • Apply appropriate genre conventions to their writing, including
    • Structure (sentence, paragraph and essay levels)
    • Format
    • Documentation (where appropriate)
  • Control such features as syntax, usage, punctuation and spelling

Educator Information