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Unit information: Critical Writing in the Humanities in 2017/18

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Unit name Critical Writing in the Humanities
Unit code AFAC20001
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Zajko
Open unit status Not open




School/department Arts Faculty Office
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This module aims to teach the skills needed to write well, to help students evaluate others’ writing, and to understand the links between writing, thinking and the social context of communication. The principles and practice of critical writing will be explored through excerpts dealing with approximately half a dozen themes selected in consultation with the students at the outset of the semester and relating to material they are studying in other units. Examples of themes are atheism, beauty, corruption, education, the media, terrorism, human rights and so on. Each lecture will be devoted partly to instruction in one of the basic principles of critical writing (the three Cs: clarity, correctness and cogency, as instanced in matters like grammar, vocabulary, evidence and argument) partly to an analysis of the principles in a variety of genres (e.g. academic journals, newspapers, reviews, student essays, the internet) as well evaluation of argument and conventions in the samples. That analysis will be continued in the seminar groups, supplemented by the contribution of the electronic discussion board. The unit aims:

  • To instruct students in three fundamental skills of critical writing (the ‘three C’s’): clarity; correctness, cogency.
  • To develop good practice in planning, writing, and revising written work, with a twin emphasis on self-scrutiny and peer review.
  • To enhance students’ ability to evaluate the quality of the critical writing they encounter in their study

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, successful students will be able to demonstrate:

  1. Knowledge and understanding of the basic principles of good critical writing in the humanities.
  2. The ability to apply these principles in their own writing.
  3. An ability to evaluate and revise their own written work.
  4. The ability to engage in productive peer-review.
  5. Familiarity with different styles of writing in a range of academic and non-academic genres
  6. An improved ability to evaluate the quality of the critical writing they encounter in their studies
  7. An ability to construct coherent, relevant and persuasive arguments on different aspects of the subject, showing critical thought and displaying full understanding of academic conventions

Teaching details

Two 1-hour lectures per week, plus one 1-hour seminar per week; e-discussion board preparatory to each week’s seminar (comments on selected piece of writing)

Assessment Details

1. Peer-review exercise (50%). At the beginning of the module, each student would be required to submit a piece of critical writing (1000 words) on a topic chosen from a designated list. They would be given one week in which to complete this task. They would be required:

  • to submit the piece of writing to one of their fellow-students for ‘peer review’;
  • to meet their reviewer and discuss his/her feedback;
  • to revise what they had written in the light of their own, and their reviewer’s, comments;
  • to submit the revised piece of writing with an accompanying statement (300 words) of what they had learned from this exercise.

Each student would review and be reviewed. Pairings would be allocated randomly by the module director.

2. Summative essay (50%). An essay (3,000 words) on a topic related to the module, from a designated list.

[Both of these assessments will assess ILOs 1-7.]

Reading and References

Diané Collinson et al, eds, Plain English, 2nd edn (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2001)

Department of English, University of Bristol, Reading English and Writing Essays: A Student’s Guide (Rev. edn, 2012) (

A. Goatly, Critical Reading and Writing: An Introductory Coursebook (London: Routledge, 2000)