Disciplinary Communication

Guidelines for Disciplinary Communication Courses


All students should learn to communicate effectively, and in a manner appropriate to their chosen fields of study.  The ability to write well is the central and necessary outcome of such learning.  However, depending on the discipline, other forms of communication may be deemed important enough to teach and require. These might include, for example, the ability to speak effectively, to debate, or to create and deliver poster presentations.  Even in the case of writing, norms of style, organization, data presentation, etc., vary widely from discipline to discipline.  The goal of the Disciplinary Communication (DC) requirement is to ensure that students acquire the skills in writing and other forms of communication deemed appropriate by the faculty overseeing their majors.

The DC courses must be taken at UCSC per Santa Cruz Regulation SCR

The DC requirement is both a general education (GE) requirement and a major requirement.  All students must satisfy the DC requirement by passing a set of 1-3 upper-division courses, totaling a minimum of 5 credits.  Because it is a GE requirement, it is subject to both Senate Regulation on GE and policy on GE overseen by the Committee on Educational Policy.  However, according to Regulation, students must satisfy the DC requirement by means of courses in, or closely related to, their major field.  Therefore, departments must play a central role in determining the content and form of the course(s) that satisfy the DC requirement for their majors.  Though this fact does not require that units mount or sponsor courses for their own majors, we expect that this will be the most common means by which DC courses are provided.  In the ideal case, DC courses will simply be normal courses satisfying the major because they impart substantive major content, but with added components that fulfill the DC requirement.

DC courses must be upper-division courses.  They may be special sections of large lecture courses which place emphasis on the instruction and evaluation of writing and other disciplinary communication skills.  They may be lab courses.  Since disciplinary communication skills are most meaningfully learned in the context of real disciplinary subject matter, DC courses should ideally be substantive courses in the discipline.

As noted above, a central component of DC courses must involve writing.  The essential characteristic of this writing component is the assumption that students will learn how to write through an iterative process of writing and feedback.  In order to ensure that practice in writing is adequately concentrated, no more than three courses can be used together to satisfy the DC requirement.  In their DC course(s), students must write a minimum of 25 pages total (subject to the qualification noted further below).  This can be in the form of one large paper or several smaller papers, but no (complete) paper should be under two pages.  The 25-page minimum can include drafts if the instructor judges a new draft to differ substantially from the previous one.

Department-specific considerations

Departments can propose that DC requirements for a major be satisfied by means of one 5-credit course or by 2-3 courses (totaling at least 5 credits).

The guidelines given above leave a great deal of room for departments to determine the content and form of courses satisfying the DC requirement.  CEP encourages departments to reflect on questions like the following:

  • What kind of writing should our majors learn to do?  Should it be exclusively academic writing, or should students learn modes of non-academic writing that might be important in their careers, e.g. grant proposal writing, memo writing, etc.?
  • How can writing assignments be used to teach the content of some of our courses?
  • Are there other forms of disciplinary communication that our majors should learn?  Public speaking?  Poster preparation and presentation?  And so on.

In order to encourage inclusion of other forms of disciplinary communication instruction in DC proposals, CEP will allow a reduction to 18 pages of the total writing page count if there is a substantive non-writing communication component to the proposal.


In more detail, a department’s DC curriculum should meet the following criteria:


  • DC educational objectives are for all majors.  DC courses must therefore be upper-division courses, and every pathway through the major must lead to satisfaction of DC objectives.


  • DC objectives must be met over at most three courses, and every paper counting toward DC requirements must be at least two pages long.
  • Students should write at least 25 pages over the course of the DC curriculum.  Drafts count toward this total if the instructor considers rewrites to be substantial.  This page minimum can be lowered to 18 if DC objectives include substantial practice and instruction in poster creation, oral presentation, etc.


  • Writing assignments should be distributed throughout the term, with papers assigned and returned to students during both halves of the quarter.
  • Students should have the opportunity to receive criticism of drafts, particularly drafts of longer projects.


  • The curriculum should explicitly address the assumptions and conventions of writing in the major’s discipline, for instance, the use of sources; the analysis of evidence; and the methods of research, argument, and proof.
  • Responses to papers should not focus on (or be limited to) correction of errors, but should address issues of argumentation, presentation, etc.

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