The First-Year English Composition Program at GCU

By Thomas Skeen, Ph.D.
Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences  

people studying at a table

You may have heard of “freshman comp” or “first-year writing” courses. As a long-standing part of general education at the college level, first-year writing is a nearly universal requirement at universities across the nation.

Grand Canyon University requires two first-year writing courses: English 105 and 106. As we developed these courses, our subject matter experts strove to follow nationally recognized guidelines for good writing instruction.

English 105 and 106 adhere to the recommended outcomes promoted by the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA), an important professional organization for teachers of college writing. The first-year writing program at GCU promotes important generalizable skills in written communication (though many principles in English 105 and 106 apply to good oral communication, too).

One of the first recommendations in the WPA Outcomes Statement is that students develop rhetorical knowledge. As noted in the WPA Outcomes Statement, “Writers develop rhetorical knowledge by negotiating purpose, audience, context and conventions as they compose a variety of texts for different situations.”

Both English 105 and 106 provide students with opportunities to practice rhetorical knowledge in a variety of ways.

English 105

In English 105, students practice three different types of writing, each with a different purpose and audience. Thus, they must practice responding to changes in purpose and audience–a skill upon which effective real-world writers rely.

For example, an instructor in English 105 may ask students to write a review of a movie, television show or even a social media app for an audience of Christian parents, and to write as if their review will appear in a news source that Christian parents would likely read (such as

In this situation, a student must take into consideration the concerns of Christian parents if, say, their teenage children want to use the latest social media app. It would be up to the student to recommend (or not recommend) the app for use by teenagers.

The writer also has to decide what mood to create in the review and what tone to strike with the parents. Even further, the student would have to write in a way that fits generally well with other content in the chosen publication.

English 106

In English 106, students build upon the skills they develop in English 105 and practice important strategies of argumentation: definition, cause and effect, and proposal. These types of argumentation can be found in a variety of real-world settings; learning them in English 106 provides students a basis on which to analyze arguments in their civic lives or working lives.

For example, proposal arguments can be found in a variety of settings, and writers can adjust strategies for proposal arguments to fit a particular setting.  Most proposal arguments include a discussion about a problem or need, offer a solution and then demonstrate how the solution will achieve the desired results.

Whereas a student might write a proposal that addresses a local issue (perhaps a city-wide ban on e-cigarettes in Phoenix), the same student might write business proposals in future employment.

In both cases, audiences will have to understand the problem or need, the solution and the justification for that solution. A writer might make adjustments based on the audience’s understanding of the problem or need, but the strategies for proposals translate well from academic requirements in English 106 to good communication in the workplace.

The goal of GCU’s first-year writing program is to help students become more flexible, dynamic communicators. In the first-year writing program at GCU, we provide students with a variety of opportunities to practice and strengthen important communication skills that will serve them during their time at GCU and beyond.

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is home to all general education courses at GCU, in addition to a variety of liberal arts degrees that help you find your purpose. To learn more about becoming a student a GCU, contact us today!

More about Dr. Skeen:


Thomas Skeen, PhD, is an associate professor of English at Grand Canyon University.  His primary focus of study is rhetoric and composition, the academic discipline for the study and teaching of writing. His research appears in peer-reviewed academic journals for the disciplines of English and writing, such as “College English” and “Computers and Composition.” Dr. Skeen has also published chapters in edited collections on rhetoric, technology and teaching writing.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.