The article reports on a research project aimed at identifying salient written genres and text types/rhetorical modes in the Faculty of Humanities at a large university in Gauteng, South Africa. The main purpose of the research was to establish an empirical base for the design of intermediate-level undergraduate language courses. A survey was done by means of text analysis: study guides were requested from a representative sample of departments, after which writing prompts were identified and analysed using Wordsmith Tools. In terms of genre it has been established that the humanities prefer essays and critical analyses, while the social sciences prefer project reports and essays. The rhetorical modes required most frequently at undergraduate level are discussion, analysis, argumentation, explanation and description. Discussion, explanation and argumentation are favoured by academic essays, while description and evaluation are favoured by reports, and analysis, argumentation and discussion are favoured by critical analyses. Although most essays presuppose argumentation, it is often not explicated in writing prompts. Other complicating factors are the ambiguity and hidden assumptions associated with certain rhetorical verbs. The outcomes of the research suggest two possible approaches to designing writing courses for undergraduate students in the humantities and social sciences: semi-generic approach, of which the latter may be more feasible within the framework of a macro-university.