Designing Your Writing Assignment

When designing a writing assignment, bear the following questions in mind:

Examining Your Goals for the Assignment

  • How exactly does this assignment fit with the objectives of your course?
  • Should this assignment relate only to the class and the texts for the class, or should it also relate to the world beyond the classroom?
  • What do you want the students to learn or experience from this writing assignment?
  • Should this assignment be an individual or a collaborative effort?
  • What do you want students to show you in this assignment? To demonstrate mastery of concepts or texts? To demonstrate logical and critical thinking? To develop an original idea? To learn and demonstrate the procedures, practices and tools of your field of study?

Defining the Writing Task

  • Is the assignment sequenced so that students (1) write a draft, (2) receive feedback (from you, fellow students or staff members) and (3) then revise it? Such a procedure has been proven to accomplish at least two goals: it improves the student’s writing and it discourages plagiarism.
  • Does the assignment include so many sub-questions that students will be confused about the major issue they should examine? Can you give more guidance about what the paper’s main focus should be? Can you reduce the number of sub-questions?
  • What is the purpose of the assignment (e.g., review knowledge already learned, find additional information, synthesize research, examine a new hypothesis)? Making the purpose(s) of the assignment explicit helps students write the kind of paper you want.
  • What is the required form (e.g., expository essay, lab report, memo, business report)?
  • What mode is required for the assignment (e.g., description, narration, analysis, persuasion, a combination of two or more of these)?

Defining the Audience for the Paper

  • Can you define a hypothetical audience to help students determine which concepts to define and explain? When students write only to the instructor, they may assume that little, if anything, requires explanation. Defining the whole class as the intended audience will clarify this issue for students.
  • What is the probable attitude of the intended readers toward the topic itself? Toward the student writer’s thesis? Toward the student writer?
  • What is the probable educational and economic background of the intended readers?

Defining the Writer’s Role

  • Can you make explicit what persona you wish the students to assume? For example, a very effective role for student writers is that of a "professional in training" who uses the assumptions, the perspective and the conceptual tools of the discipline.

Defining Your Evaluative Criteria

  • If possible, explain the relative weight in grading assigned to the quality of writing and the assignment's content:
    • Depth of coverage
    • Organization
    • Focus
    • Critical thinking
    • Original thinking
    • Use of research
    • Logical demonstration
    • Appropriate mode of structure and analysis (e.g., comparison, argument)
    • Format
    • Correct use of sources
    • Grammar and mechanics
    • Professional tone
    • Correct use of course-specific concepts and terms

Resource adapted from the University of San Francisco Writing Center.