Student and mentor reviewing a paper in front of a computer

Tips for Choosing Papers

The Writing Center

As you consider papers for inclusion in your portfolio, there are a number of factors to consider, from the nature of portfolio assessment in general to the specific requirements of USC Aiken's Writing Proficiency Portfolio. The following guide includes some advice developed by readers of portfolios to help guide your decisions.

Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio assessment is unique in that, in addition to requiring competent writing, it requires you to recognize competence in your own writing. This recognized competence means that you can select writing samples that best showcase how your skills and abilities reflect USC Aiken’s writing proficiency outcomes. Sometimes students ignore this element of portfolio assessment and choose papers based entirely on the grade they earned. Choosing papers in this manner is not a good idea. Instructors often grade papers according to a variety of factors that may or may not have anything to do with the criteria portfolio readers will use. 

View WPP Grading Criteria

Although the grade a paper earned might indicate that a paper is worthy of inclusion, make sure that you review each paper according to the seven outcomes/criteria used to assess your portfolio: clarity of purpose, quality of thought, organization of content, synthesis of sources, attribution and documentation of sources, language and style, and grammar and mechanics. Ultimately, you are responsible for the choices you make. The Writing Proficiency Portfolio thus becomes a way to demonstrate your writing performance and precision. 

Eligible Work for Inclusion

Most written work submitted for academic credit is eligible for inclusion, as long as it reflects standard English usage. As a suggestion, if the assignment encourages a generalized, educated audience (even one that understands the conventions of your field), it could be a good choice for the WPP. Papers produced for Writing Intensive (WI) courses might be good papers to consider.

Other possible assignments for inclusion are the following:   

  • single-authored research papers
  • review essays
  • book reviews
  • lab reports
  • business writings demonstrating complex skills (e.g., reports, business plans, analyses)

Ineligible Work for Inclusion

Please remember that the grade you earn on a paper does not necessarily reflect a strong submission for the WPP. Several types of assignments should not be included: 

  • group-written papers
  • papers written in languages other than English
  • computer programs
  • lecture notes
  • informal journal entries
  • annotated bibliographies
  • business writings that can be generated from a template (e.g., resumes, letters, emails, memos) 
  • lab reports with minimal text

If you are unsure of the eligibility of your papers, please contact Dr. Matt Miller, Writing Assessment Director, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (803) 641-3208.

Significant Research Component

Two of the seven criteria for assessing each portfolio include attribution/documentation of sources and synthesis of sources. To that effect, at least one of the papers in your portfolio must include a "significant research component." The paper must reflect your ability to both document and synthesize source material in support of your thesis. Summaries and/or reactions to single sources do not reflect synthesis. Although it's impossible to pin down an exact number of sources that must be included, you can safely assume the researched paper must include at least three sources. If you have a doubt about what counts for researched writing, all students who had English 101 and English 102 at USC Aiken wrote researched papers that should qualify as a "significant research component." Any documentation style is accepted (MLA, APA, ASA, Chicago, etc.).

NOTE: Because almost thirty percent of the assessment of the portfolio depends on your use of sources, it is a good idea to include more than one researched paper. If you choose to include only one, be sure it is a thoroughly researched paper.

Papers from English 101 or English 102

Only one paper can come from an English freshman composition course (English 101 or English 102). The inclusion of a paper from this composition sequence is optional. This limitation of only one paper out of these two courses corresponds with the writing across the curriculum design of the WPP. 

NOTE: The portfolio should reflect your ability to apply the skills you learned in English 101 and 102 to other contexts, not how well you wrote in those classes. In fact, the portfolio will be assessed as an upper-division requirement, not as a first-year composition paper. If you choose to include a paper from English 101 or English 102, be certain to revise it accordingly.

Papers From Other Schools

If you are a transfer student, there are not necessarily any restrictions on papers from other institutions. However, if you are including assignments from other institutions, it is imperative that you provide plenty of context for the assignment within your reflective cover essay. 

NOTE:  Papers from other institutions will be evaluated based on the criteria of USC Aiken’s writing proficiency. If you have questions about papers from other schools or the WPP requirement as a transfer student, please contact Dr. Matt Miller, Writing Assessment Director, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (803) 641-3208.