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What is the Upper Level Writing Requirement?
The Upper Level Writing Requirement (ULWR) is an LSA requirement for graduation. The ULWR is designed to teach students to recognize and utilize the writing style and conventions of their chosen major. FAQs about the requirement can be found here. Courses that have been approved by the Sweetland Writing Center to fulfill the ULWR will teach students:
   1) to organize their thoughts logically,
   2) to use clear, concise, and appropriate language,
   3) to analyze information at a very high level,
   4) to incorporate evidence or data into their analysis.

How can I fulfill my ULWR?

Students with a major in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences are required to fulfill the ULWR through the Department’s pathways, either by taking an EARTH course that fulfills the ULWR or by undertaking the “paper” option discussed below. Exceptions: If you are a double major, you may fulfill your ULWR in the other major. Rarely, for a hardship-related reason, an Earth and Environmental Sciences faculty advisor allows substitution of a non-EARTH course to satisfy the ULWR.To receive credit for your ULWR, a grade of C- or higher must be obtained in the ULWR course. Courses within the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences that currently allow you to complete the ULWR are:
   EARTH 333 – The Inexhaustible Seas?
   EARTH 413 – Geomicrobiology: How Microorganisms Shape Earth and Environment
   EARTH 431 – Terrestrial Biomes Past, Present and Future

Students who fail to exhibit adequate development of basic writing skills will be referred by the Writing Supervisor to the Sweetland Writing Center for remedial writing assistance before that student will be permitted to continue toward satisfaction of the departmental requirement.

The ULWR courses in Earth and Environmental Sciences don’t fit my schedule

It is also possible to complete your ULWR by working directly with your professors in Earth and Environmental Sciences on independent writing assignments. You must complete two writing assignments, each supervised by a different professor, and you must write about two different topics (e.g., Mercury pollution and the San Andreas Fault).

Each of the papers must be at least 10 pages in length (not counting figures, graphs, or tables), must involve critical analysis of a problem (i.e., you can not simply describe a problem), and must involve at least two rounds of revisions based on comments from the faculty supervisor who is advising you on the paper. The papers should be properly referenced according to a format that is agreed in advance with the supervising professor (e.g., following a scholarly journal such as Geology). Papers should have a minimum of 10 references, no more than three of which may be web-based sources.

The most important thing is that the papers demonstrate critical thinking, which means either that you discuss the meaning of data that you collected yourself, or that you look at some issue of interest and consider both sides of the argument or more than one possible explanation for the phenomenon (e.g., subduction is driven by “ridge push” or “slab pull”).

Students cannot submit papers that are co-authored with another student. To satisfy the ULWR, the papers must have been written by the student him/herself. However, editorial suggestions for revision by a faculty supervisor are entirely appropriate.

What if I’m writing an Honors Thesis?

Students writing an Honors Thesis may be able to substitute their thesis for the "paper" option provided that the Honors Thesis is at least 20 pages in length, not including references or appendices, and that they receive permission from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences ULWR Writing Supervisor, Prof. Ingrid Hendy,

What format should the papers take?

A) If you are reporting data of your own or data that is based on a project that you are undertaking with one of the professors, then the paper should be formatted like a scholarly paper that could be submitted to a journal. It should have the following parts:

  • Abstract (up to 250 words) – a concise summary of the whole paper (with only this, a reader should be able to describe what your paper is about).
  • Introduction – introduce the problem and the eventual solution.
  • Materials and Methods – discuss the approach taken by the researchers.
  • Results – discuss what information was found and any data, but not the implications of the data.Discussion – discuss the implications of the work and any opposing view point.
  • Conclusions – summarize the Results and Discussion.
  • References – use a minimum of 10 resources, no more than 3 of which may be web sources.

B) If you are, instead, writing a research paper about a topic where you have not been involved in the research personally, you should take a stance and argue for it. For example, you could compare two competing hypotheses for the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs and explain which one is more plausible in your opinion. It should have the following parts:

  • Introduction – introduce the problem and the competing hypotheses.
  • Supporting Arguments – consider 3 to 5 different lines of evidence and compare and contrast. how they support and do not support the arguments that you are considering.
  • Conclusion – explain which hypothesis you favor and why.
  • References – use a minimum of 10 resources, no more than 3 of which may be web sources.

What happens once I’ve written the papers and done my revisions?

You should send the papers via e-mail to Prof. Ingrid Hendy ( and ask your faculty supervisors to confirm that you’ve made the revisions to their satisfaction via email to Prof. Hendy. Once she has all of that information, she will contact the Sweetland Writing Center to confirm that you have completed your ULWR.


All papers and revisions must be completed by Noon on the last day of classes of the term to satisfy the ULWR in that term. Students are strongly encouraged not to leave their ULWR unfulfilled until the term of graduation.

Topic Categories
You should choose two of the three general categories listed below.

Category I: Mineralogy, Petrology, Geochemistry, Economic Geology
Faculty: Becker, Blum, Castro, Dick, Lange, Li, Simon, Zhang

Category II: Sedimentation, Paleontology, Surficial Geology, Oceanography
Faculty: Arbic, Baumiller, Fisher, Friedman, Hendy, Lohmann, Petersen, Poulsen, Sheldon, Wilson

Category III: Structural Geology, Tectonics-Geophysics, Geodynamics
Faculty: Clark, Hetland, Huang, Niemi, Ritsema, Ruff, van der Pluijm

Note: Many faculty members can serve as readers in more than one category. The spirit of the requirement is to provide breadth to the writing experience through contact with two faculty members and two generally different areas of geology.

For More Information Contact the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Writing Supervisor, Prof. Ingrid Hendy,