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DSP Instructor Resources

What is DSP?

Directed Self-Placement, or DSP, is the University of Michigan’s way of helping incoming students decide whether they are ready to enter their First-Year Writing Requirement (FYWR) course immediately, or whether they would benefit from first taking WRITING 100, an ungraded transition to college writing course, or WRITING 120, a course for multilingual undergraduates, both taught by experienced Sweetland faculty.

While dozens of colleges and universities use some version of DSP for writing placement, the University of Michigan has emerged as a national leader in DSP development and research. Connecting DSP to the classroom is a distinguishing feature of the Michigan model.

Watch this video to learn more about the DSP at U-M.

The pdf below contains all of the information contained in all of the DSP Instructor Resources pages that follow if you prefer to print a copy.


Instructors are an integral part of the success of DSP at the University of Michigan, so it is important that all FYWR and Sweetland instructors understand the DSP process. In order to fully understand what DSP is, however, it is important to understand what DSP is not:

1. DSP is not a placement test.

DSP is an alternative to the mandatory writing placement assessments used at many other colleges and universities, which typically rely on standardized test scores or timed impromptu essays. The University of Michigan believes that these kinds of assessments send students the wrong message about the expectations of college-level writing. Instead, the University of Michigan’s DSP process is designed to help students understand the kinds of thinking and writing that are valued at the University by engaging them in a more authentic college writing task. Students then assess their own readiness for college-level writing based on this experience. Learn more about the rationale for DSP as it is structured at the University of Michigan.

2. DSP does not place students into writing courses.

DSP helps students place themselves. The online DSP process generates a writing course recommendation based on students’ responses to the self-assessment questions they complete after submitting their essay, and advisors discuss this recommendation with students during orientation. However, students are ultimately responsible for making their own decision about whether to begin with WRITING 100, WRITING 120 or to enroll directly into their First-Year Writing Requirement course. Learn more about the DSP process from the student perspective.

3. Students’ DSP essays are not evaluated as part of placement procedure.

The DSP essays are made available to students’ FYWR, WRITING 100 and WRITING 120 instructors, who use them:

  1. to get a sense of students’ writing abilities;
  2. as the basis for class activities and assignments; and
  3. as a way to help students reflect on how their writing has grown over the course of the semester.

When students begin the DSP process, they are informed that their instructors will be reading the essays they write. This is part of what motivates students to take the DSP process seriously, and they are often disappointed or frustrated if their instructor never discusses or makes use of their DSP essay in class. Learn more about how to use students’ DSP essays in your class.

4. DSP is not a static procedure.

The article that students read for DSP and the essay prompt that they respond to changes every year, and FYWR, WRITING 100 and WRITING 120 instructors are always invited to participate in the selection of the reading and the development of the prompt. Sweetland also regularly surveys instructors to gather their impressions and suggestions about how the DSP process is working. In this way, DSP becomes a better reflection of college-level writing at the University of Michigan and more integrated into classroom instruction each year. Learn more about how instructors shape DSP.