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Designing Effective Writing Assignments

General Considerations

What is the purpose of the assignment?  How will it be used?

Is the assignment written in-class or out-of-class?

  • In-class writing requires a more tightly focused writing prompt.
  • Out-of-class writing can demand more preparation and revision by students.
  • Less grading time is required for in-class writing

What kind of writing will students do?

  • Personal/expressive writing lets students discover their opinions without the risk of failing to produce a formal, structured, "correct product.  Its audience can be oneself, peers and/or the teacher.
  • Academic writing/writing from sources teaches students to make and support claims using the conventions of writing in higher education.  Its audience is usually the teacher.
  • Workplace writing like proposals, reports and abstracts teaches students the writing of their professions.  Its audience may vary.

What level are the students?

  • Lover-division students are less committed to college and to a career choice and typically know less.
  • Upper-division students are more committed and knowledgeable about both college and career.

Will the students write alone or in groups?

  • Collaborative writing is the pattern in the American workplace, but collaborative assignments require structure to avoid problems of "pooled ignorance," uneven levels of commitment by students, and immaturity.

Who will evaluate the writing, and when?

  • Out-of-class writing permits individual paper conferences and peer editing in addition to instructor evaluation.

Is revision of the assignment permitted?

  • Allowing revision can make more work for the instructor, but it can improve student learning.  Discourage revision that is mere exercise of the fingers.

Other Hints

  • Specify your criteria for evaluation as part of the assignment.
  • Check sheets can be useful for clarifying an assignment. So can trying to write the assignment yourself, if you have time.
  • Consider building up to complex assignments and goals through simpler ones. For example, have students rewrite an assignment that simply reports observations into one that generalizes from them.
  • Try to provide a specific audience for the writing.
  • Try to make every assignment count. That doesn't necessarily mean all must be graded or collected, but using them in some way can help students see the worth of the assignments.
  • Any assignment help writing ability if students write in complete sentences, using their own words.
  • Not all assignments need to be long, major papers. In fact, shorter assignments serve some purposes better.
  • Most importantly, shape the assignment to fit your purpose. Before making an assignment, know what content and skills you want your students to practice or demonstrate by writing. Also know what tasks the students must perform to achieve your specific goals.